U.S. Air Force veteran freed in Ukraine-Russia prisoner swap
Suedi Murekezi, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was freed from Russian-controlled territory in a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday.
Why it matters: Murekezi's relatives told the Washington Post he was arrested in June by pro-Russian authorities in the formerly occupied city of Kherson after being wrongly accused of participating in pro-Ukrainian protests.
- Kirby, on a conference call with reporters Wednesday, confirmed Murekezi's release and said: “We welcome the news."
Details: Murekezi is from Minnesota but has lived in Ukraine since 2018.
- He was freed along with 64 soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who fought in Donetsk and Luhansk, according to Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff.
- Ukraine also received four bodies of soldiers killed in action, Yermak said.
What they're saying: In an interview with ABC News published Wednesday, Murekezi said he spent weeks in a basement after he was initially arrested, where he said he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks.
- Murekezi said he was then transferred to a prison in Donetsk city, where he spent three months before being released, though he was without his U.S. passport and effectively trapped.
The big picture: Murekezi's release comes less than a week after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
- Murekezi had been one of at least three U.S. veterans arrested or captured by Russia or Russian-backed authorities during Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
- Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, two other former service members, were captured while fighting alongside Ukrainians in Kharkiv Oblast in June but were freed through a prisoner exchange in September.
- At least two Americans have been killed while fighting in Ukraine, though the exact number is currently unknown.