Ukraine-Russia Prisoner Swap Frees U.S. Air Force Veteran Suedi Murekezi

The Rwandan immigrant who fled genocide said he was tortured for two weeks while in Russian-held territory.

American Suedi Murekezi, a U.S. Air Force veteran living in Ukraine until he was arrested, was among the Russian-held prisoners freed Wednesday (Dec. 14) in a prisoner swap with Ukraine.

CBS News reported that the Ukraine presidency’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak announced on social media the release of 64 Ukrainian soldiers who fought in Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as “a U.S. citizen who helped our people–Suedi Murekezi."

Murekezi was arrested in June in Russian-occupied Kherson where he had been living for more than two years, his brother, Sele Murekezi told The Guardian in July. Sele said he received a phone call from Suedi on July 7 saying he was imprisoned in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, which is backed by Russia.

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After his arrest, Russian-controlled authorities tortured Murekzi for two week in a basement before he spent three months in a Donetsk prison, ABC News reported. Although the Russians later released him, Murekzi was trapped in Russian territory because he didn’t have his U.S. passport.

On Wednesday, finally freed, Murekezi told ABC News that he was relieved to be safe in Ukrainian-held territory. The station tweeted a video interview with the newly free American.

TASS, the Russian news agency, reported that Murekezi was arrested and charged with attending anti-Russian protests and inciting ethnic hatred in Donetsk, according to CBS News.

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Murekezi was born in Rwanda in 1985. He and his family immigrated to the United States to flee the ethnic genocide in his homeland, in which approximately 800,000 people were slaughtered. They settled in Minnesota.

After serving eight years in the U.S. Air Force, Murekezi became a cryptocurrency investor in 2017. That business brought him to Ukraine, where he settled permanently in 2020.

Murekezi told ABC News that he looks forward to having “a peanut butter sandwich” when he returns home to Minnesota.

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