Locked in a small cell with just an hour a day to walk in a narrow yard, he’s almost completely cut off from the world.
But Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, the first American journalist detained in Russia on spying charges since the Cold War, can receive mail — so colleagues and friends have set up a letter-writing campaign to keep his spirits high.
Held in a notorious Moscow prison, where colleagues say he shares a cell with another inmate, Gershkovich, 31, is allowed to receive the letters, but only if they're mailed from inside the country and are in Russian, so censors can read them.
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Polina Ivanova, who also worked in Russia for The Financial Times, is one of the organizers of the campaign, in which a group of volunteers in Russia take the letters, stuff the envelopes, drive them to the post offices and mail them to Lefortovo Prison.
“One of the best ways to support him is to make sure that he knows that he is the center of everybody’s attention worldwide right now,” she said last week. “The first reply that he sent us to his group of friends, he spoke about how important these letters are for him.”
In a statement released through his Russian legal team Friday, Gershkovich said he had been “humbled and deeply touched” by all the letters he had been sent.
Gershkovich was on assignment for the Journal when he was arrested in Yekaterinburg by Russia’s FSB, the Federal Security Service, last month and detained on spying charges. He will be held in pretrial detention until at least May 29.
The State Department has designated him as wrongly detained — an assessment his fellow reporter Matthew Luxmoore and his boss, Gordon Fairclough, agreed with.
Russia may be willing to discuss a prisoner swap involving Gershkovich after a court delivers its verdict, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last month.
“He was a journalist who was doing his job, and journalism should not be a crime,” Fairclough said.
CORRECTION (May 2, 2023, 10:25 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia may be willing to discuss a prisoner swap involving Evan Gershkovich. It was April 13, not this month.