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After a year in Russian detention, WSJ reporter's sister still fights for his release

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For 24 straight hours, ending today at noon Eastern, friends and family and colleagues of Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal came together to read his stories out loud.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: "Soldier Describes Early Chaos" by Evan Gershkovich.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The resulting mistakes have shaped...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Former Russia...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: As the war continues into the second year and Western sanctions bite harder.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: This is his journalism, and journalism is not a crime.

KELLY: The marathon reading was designed to celebrate his work one year after he was detained in Russia on spying allegations. He is still waiting on a trial. And this week a Russian court extended his detention by another three months. Danielle Gershkovich is Evan's big sister, and she is with me now. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DANIELLE GERSHKOVICH: Thank you.

KELLY: So you and I spoke last fall, when he had been in detention for a few months. And you told me you were swapping letters with him, like, once a week - handwritten letters. Are you still writing back and forth?

D GERSHKOVICH: Yes. I look forward to them every week. Sometimes there's a bit of a delay in the mail, but it's definitely a nice light in some of this dark time.

KELLY: Yeah. May I ask when you last heard from him?

D GERSHKOVICH: I got a letter last week from him. It was really funny. He's very excited for my husband and I to move. And have a guest bedroom for him to stay in. He wants to make sure it's big enough for him.

KELLY: (Laughter) Scoping out the bed. Yeah.

D GERSHKOVICH: Yeah.

KELLY: Yeah. And how's he holding up?

D GERSHKOVICH: I'm so proud of him. He is still working very, very hard to keep his spirits up. And we try as best we can to support him from here.

KELLY: May I ask about this news that you got this week - news that I know was not welcome - that his pre-trial detention has been extended again for a fifth time. How are you? How are your parents processing that?

D GERSHKOVICH: Honestly, it was devastating news. You don't want to believe that he's going to be in prison over a year. But we have no choice. We just have to keep pushing forward. As far as negotiations, that is a conversation between governments, and the case is opaque for us. So we just have to trust that the White House is working incredibly hard and they're taking this very seriously and that they're going to do whatever it takes to get Evan home.

KELLY: I want to ask about the tributes to Evan this week to mark the one-year anniversary of his arrest. We heard a little bit there from the read-a-thon at The Wall Street Journal. There was also an international swim in solidarity - journalists from all over the world swimming at 10 different Brighton Beaches because I guess Evan loves Brighton Beach. Which one - the one in New York or U.K. or where?

D GERSHKOVICH: New York. Our grandparents lived there, so we would visit them a couple times a year. We'd drive from Princeton to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, eat a lot of Russian food and spend time with our grandparents.

KELLY: What's it like to watch something like that - journalists diving in all over the world to honor your brother?

D GERSHKOVICH: I'm so touched. It's - my family - we're so, so grateful. I know it's not easy. I've seen some runs, too. And I heard that some of the water is very frigid, so I just have to say thank you so much to everyone who's doing everything they can for Evan.

KELLY: Does Evan share when he corresponds with you - aside from his designs on your guest bedroom, does he share what he wants to do when he's out?

D GERSHKOVICH: I know that I, personally, want a vacation with just us - just my immediate family - just to get away from everything, spend some time together. But the rest is up to Evan. And we trust that he's going to do what's best for him.

KELLY: Yeah. Does he talk about journalism, how he sees that in his life going forward?

D GERSHKOVICH: You know, I have a hunch he will go back to that. But, no, we personally don't talk about that. We just keep things light - still sending him celebrity gossip. I'm asking him...

(LAUGHTER)

D GERSHKOVICH: ...It's very important...

KELLY: Important to keep up, yes.

D GERSHKOVICH: Absolutely. And recently I've been asking if it's OK if I see the "Dune" sequel. He really loves the first one, and I feel guilty about seeing the second one while he can't. So I'm still waiting for an answer for that.

KELLY: Got it. Well, Danielle, before I let you go, I want people to hear Evan's voice, and I want to play just a little piece from an interview that I did with him. This was in 2019. He was with The Moscow Times then. And the reason I was interviewing him, of all things, was he was reporting about a journalist who'd been arrested in Russia.

...May not know who Ivan Golunov is. Tell me a little bit about him and his work that might have set this chain of events in motion.

EVAN GERSHKOVICH: So Ivan, for the past about 10 years, has been one of Russia's foremost investigative journalists. And a recent story that he was working on that he did in 2018...

KELLY: So, Danielle Gershkovich, I wanted to play that because the headline that day was that charges had been dropped against this other journalist, Ivan Golunov. He had been released. And I just wanted to say on behalf of my many fellow journalists that I hope similar news will come soon for your brother.

D GERSHKOVICH: Thank you so much. It means the world. I hope so, too. I hope we can get that happy ending soon.

KELLY: Danielle Gershkovich is the older sister of The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in Russia one year ago this week. Thank you.

D GERSHKOVICH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marc Rivers
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.