US Citizen Freed in Ukraine-Russia Prisoner Exchange

Suedi Murekezi says he was tortured by Russians who accused him of being a CIA agent
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2022 6:25 PM CST
US Citizen Freed in Ukraine-Russia Prisoner Exchange
Ukrainian authorities released this photo of Murekezi after the prisoner exchange Wednesday.   (Andriy Yermak/Facebook)

An American citizen who served in the Air Force was freed along with 64 Ukrainian prisoners of war in an exchange with Russian forces on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities say. Suedi Murekezi's relatives in Minnesota say he had lived in Ukraine for years and was based in Kherson when Russia invaded, the Washington Post reports. He was detained in June, accused of taking part in pro-Ukraine protests, and was moved to another territory controlled by pro-Russia separatists, where he was held captive and tortured. A friend told the Guardian in July that days after Murekezi disappeared in June, a video appeared on separatists' Telegram channels showing Murekezi, clearly distressed, being forced to repeat "glory to the Russian army" in Russian.

Murekezi was held with two Americans who fought for Ukraine, Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh. They described harsh conditions in captivity after they were released in a September prisoner exchange. Murekezi, who was born in Rwanda and moved to the US with his family in 1994, spent eight years in the Air Force. After he left in 2017, his interest in cryptocurrencies brought him to Ukraine. His brother tells the Post that Murekezi was released from a prison in Donetsk in October, but that he didn't have his US passport and wasn't allowed to leave the Russian-controlled area.

After he was returned to Ukrainian-held territory Wednesday, Murekezi told ABC that he had been beaten and subjected to electric shocks in a "torture chamber" in the early months of his captivity, when Russians accused him of being a CIA agent. He said food had been minimal—and the thing he's looking forward to most when he gets back to Minnesota is a peanut butter sandwich. In a statement on social media, Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, said 64 Ukrainian soldiers had been released and "it was also possible to free a US citizen who helped our people." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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