Ukrainian military and intelligence agencies have freed American prisoner of war Suedi Murekezi during a swap involving dozens of prisoners from each side.
Russian forces arrested Murekezi, 35, on suspicion of serving as a CIA operative. Murekezi had lived for two years in the city of Kherson before his arrest in June, following the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A two-hour ceasefire allowed soldiers from Ukraine and Russia to meet just outside Zaporizhzhia in the “gray zone” and swap prisoners. Murekezi had remained in Russian-controlled territory prior to the exchange, ABC News reported.
Murekezi spoke of his treatment in a Russian “torture chamber,” where he stayed for some weeks earlier in the war, subjected to electric shocks in a basement while soldiers accused him of being a CIA operative and participating in pro-Ukrainian protests. He claimed that the soldiers provided minimal food and water.
Russian state-owned news agency TASS had reported that authorities charged Murekezi with “inciting ethnic hatred.”
He remained in custody along with Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, two American fighters arrested by Russian forces in June.
The Russians then moved Murekezi to a prison in Donetsk, where he remained for three months before they released him. He remained in the city since he did not have his passport and therefore could not leave the Russian-controlled territory.
Ukraine secured the release of 64 soldiers and five slain Ukrainians in addition to Murekezi, The Hill reported. Ukrainian forces said they were taking Murekezi to Kyiv.
Murekezi’s brother told The Guardian newspaper that all of their friends and family had been “extremely worried” for his well-being since they had heard nothing from him for weeks following his arrest. He insisted at the time that Russia had kept his brother as a prisoner for “their own propaganda purposes.”
Murekezi was born in Rwanda in 1985 but fled with his family due to the genocide, after which they moved to Minnesota. He first visited Ukraine in 2017 for business but settled there permanently in 2020.
He had served in the U.S. Air Force prior to living in Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department had said previously that it was “aware of reports” of Murekezi’s detention but declined to comment further due to “privacy considerations,” but his family said that they had remained in daily contact with the State Department about his situation.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote on Telegram that “another exchange of prisoners” had happened, adding that “we continue to return ours.”