City Hall building relit in Ukraine colors in honor, support of captured Tuscaloosa man

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Tuscaloosa City Hall is again illuminated in yellow and blue, but this time it’s not just in support of Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia.

This week, the lights are for one of Tuscaloosa’s own.

Alex Drueke, 39, grew up in Alberta and is now a prisoner of war, being held by Russian-backed forces in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

Tuscaloosa City Council President Kip Tyner, who has represented Alberta as part of District 5 since 1997, said he’s known Alex Drueke since the Tuscaloosa native was a young boy and was not shocked to learn of Alex Drueke’s insistence on aiding Ukraine.

“Please keep the Druekes in your thoughts and prayers,” Tyner said.

Read this: Mom of Tuscaloosa veteran held in Ukraine speaks to son by phone

Previous coverage: What's being done to bring a Tuscaloosa man home after being reported missing in Ukraine battle

The re-illumination of City Hall in the colors of the Ukraine flag – it first was lit yellow-and-blue in early March soon after the conflict began – will last through the week and come as Drueke was able to call his mother, Lois “Bunny” Drueke, on Tuesday.

They spoke for just under 10 minutes, according to a family spokesperson.

Tuscaloosa City Hall is again illuminated in yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. This time, its to support Tuscaloosa native Alex Drueke, one of two Alabama men who were aiding Ukraine soldiers when they were captured by Russian forces on June 9. The families of both men now consider them prisoners of war.
Tuscaloosa City Hall is again illuminated in yellow and blue, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. This time, its to support Tuscaloosa native Alex Drueke, one of two Alabama men who were aiding Ukraine soldiers when they were captured by Russian forces on June 9. The families of both men now consider them prisoners of war.

“He sounded tired and stressed, and he was clearly reciting some things he had been made to practice or read, but it was wonderful to hear his voice and know he’s alive and alright,” Bunny Drueke said.

Drueke left the U.S. in mid-April, entering Poland legally and making contact with Ukrainian forces from there to volunteer, his family said.

He moved from unit to unit, helping train Ukrainian soldiers in using the equipment they were receiving from other nations.

Alex Drueke is one of two Alabama men to be captured by Russian soldiers during a June 9 battle north of Kharkiv near the town of Izbytske, which is in a region of northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

The other, Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh of Hartselle, has yet to make contact with his family, said his fiancee, Joy Black.

“We are still hoping to get a similar communication from Andy,” she said.

Drueke and Huynh failed to return to a meeting spot after their group came under heavy fire in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine.

While the two men traveled separately to help Ukraine, they soon became friends there in part because of their shared Alabama background, relatives have said.

On June 13, Bunny Drueke received a phone call from another member of the unit her son had been with to inform her the unit had come under fire and scattered, and that Drueke and Huynh were as of yet unaccounted for.

Two days later, photos and videos began surfacing on Ukrainian and Russian social media showing the two men in captivity.

Since then, U.S. officials have confirmed that Drueke and Huynh are being held in Urkaine’s Donetsk region.

From early 2022: Tuscaloosa shows solidarity with Ukrainian colors after Russian invasion

In Tuesday’s call to his mother, Alex Drueke seemed to be prompted to repeat several times that his captors were anxious to begin negotiations for his release, his family said, but these statements did not specify any terms or conditions, nor with whom negotiations should commence.

“In between these statements we were able to exchange personal words,” Bunny Drueke said. “He wanted to make sure his dog was doing well, that I was holding up. I told him I was doing everything I knew to do to help get him and Andy released.”

Alex Drueke told his mother he had not had contact with Huynh for several days, and it is assumed that Huynh is also being held in solitary confinement, the Drueke family said.

Likewise, Alex Drueke told his mother that he is spending most of the time in isolation but has food, water and bedding.

“We hope this is all true,” said Dianna Shaw, Alex Drueke’s aunt who is now acting as the family spokesperson. “Our family is greatly relieved that the Russian government seems to be using their influence to see that Alex is being treated humanely as a prisoner of war, which he and Andy most certainly are.”

For now, the Drueke family continues to receive regular briefings from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, now located in Poland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, their congressional representatives and other organizations.

The family also said that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have spoken publicly about Drueke and Huynh over the past several days, calling them heroes and vowing to work for their release.

“We are grateful the Ukrainian government is standing behind Alex and Andy,” Shaw said. “These men put their lives on the line to help shore up Ukraine’s democracy.”

On Saturday, Alex Drueke’s captors telephoned the U.S. Department of State and seemingly prompted him to make statements that he was being treated humanely and that his captors were anxious to begin negotiations for his and Huynh’s release, Shaw said.

On Tuesday, the State Department was called again, this time from the same telephone number with a Russian exchange, and Alex Drueke made similar statements, Shaw said.

Later in the day, Bunny Drueke received a call from the same phone number and chose to answer it.

“I can’t describe how glad I am that I did,” she said. “He warned me when he went to Iraq, and again when he arrived in Ukraine, that if he ever were to be captured that he might be made to say things to remain safe.

“He told me the only thing I should ever believe him saying is, ‘I love you, Mom.’”

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Tuscaloosa City Hall lit in honor, support of man captured in Ukraine