Journalist Detained by Russia Was Reporting Stories That ‘Needed to Be Told’

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Evan Gershkovich, who works for The Wall Street Journal, knew the risks of reporting successful Russia but felt a heavy transportation to the country, his friends said.

Evan Gershkovich, wearing a bluish  denim shot   chapeau  and navy bluish  jacket.
Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was arrested successful Russia connected Thursday. A chap newsman said they often discussed the risks they faced successful covering the country.Credit...Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Katie Robertson

April 2, 2023, 12:01 a.m. ET

The reporting occupation successful Moscow had everything Evan Gershkovich was looking for, his friends said: acquisition successful a far-flung determination with the accidental to link with his Russian roots.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31, an American writer calved to Soviet émigrés, moved from New York to Russia successful precocious 2017 to instrumentality up his archetypal reporting role, a occupation astatine The Moscow Times and, his friends and co-workers said, helium rapidly embraced beingness successful Moscow.

“He had nary hesitation; helium was truly acceptable to effort thing wholly new,” said Nora Biette-Timmons, a person from assemblage and the lawman exertion of Jezebel, adding, “I retrieve truthful distinctly however overmuch helium loved what helium was doing.”

In January 2022, helium was hired arsenic a Moscow-based analogous for The Wall Street Journal, a imagination job, his friends said.

But connected Thursday, successful a determination that intensified tensions betwixt Moscow and the West, Russian authorities said that they had detained the journalist, accusing him of “spying successful the interests of the American government.”

Russia has not provided immoderate grounds to backmost up the accusations, and Mr. Gershkovich, and his leader person denied the allegation. Russian authorities media said Mr. Gershkovich was being held astatine a situation successful Moscow to await proceedings aft being transported from Yekaterinburg, a metropolis 900 miles distant successful the Ural Mountains wherever helium was arrested. He is the archetypal American writer detained connected espionage charges since the extremity of the Cold War and faces up to 20 years successful jail.

Dozens of planetary quality organizations person condemned the apprehension and President Biden on Friday called for Mr. Gershkovich’s contiguous release. Top editors and property state organizations from astir the satellite wrote to the Russian ambassador to the United States connected Thursday, saying that the apprehension was “unwarranted and unjust” and “a important escalation successful your government’s anti-press actions.”

The missive went on, “Russia is sending the connection that journalism wrong your borders is criminalized and that overseas correspondents seeking to study from Russia bash not bask the benefits of the regularisation of law.”

Russia’s penetration of Ukraine much than a twelvemonth agone has drastically heightened the risks for journalists trying to study successful the region. After the commencement of the war, galore autarkic Russian outlets were unopen down and Russian journalists were forced to flee. Western outlets that had operated bureaus successful the state for decades moved their reporters out, and fewer Western journalists stay full-time successful the state today. Some reporters person continued to record stories from Russia by traveling successful and retired arsenic needed.

In interviews, friends of Mr. Gershkovich described him arsenic an extroverted writer with an abiding emotion for Russia and its people, who was cleareyed astir the risks facing him successful his reporting.

Polina Ivanova, a analogous who covers Russia and Ukraine for the Financial Times, said she met Mr. Gershkovich soon aft they some arrived successful Moscow successful 2017.

“Evan is simply a wholly talented newsman and idiosyncratic for whom journalism is incredibly earthy due to the fact that helium is an astonishing talker and charms everybody and is precise funny,” she said.

Ms. Ivanova said that the brace often discussed the risks they faced successful covering the state but that Mr. Gershkovich felt helium should marque each effort to study stories extracurricular of Moscow.

“He ever understands Russia with an utmost magnitude of penetration and nuance and extent and that is based connected the information that he’s lived and breathed this communicative for the past 5 years,” she said. “And that’s what makes this each truthful achy due to the fact that helium truly cares truthful overmuch astir what is happening successful the country.”

Ms. Ivanova said she past saw Mr. Gershkovich successful February, erstwhile she was traveling with him and friends successful Vietnam. Afterward, helium flew consecutive to Moscow for his latest reporting assignment.

Known to galore of his American friends arsenic “Gersh,” Mr. Gershkovich grew up successful Princeton, N.J. His parents had emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, portion of a question of Jews who near successful the 1970s. He spoke Russian astatine location and, successful an article successful the mag Hazlitt successful 2018, helium reminisced astir increasing up with his mother’s Russian superstitions, including not spilling brackish connected the meal table, and looking for ways to summation his transportation with his heritage.

Mr. Gershkovich studied doctrine and English astatine Bowdoin College successful Maine, graduating successful 2014. He past lived successful Bangkok for a twelvemonth connected a Princeton successful Asia fellowship.


Mr. Gershkovich scored a game-winning punishment footwear for Bowdoin College successful a shot crippled successful 2010. He graduated successful 2014.Credit...Brian Wedge/Bowdoin Athletics

After college, Mr. Gershkovich moved to New York City and worked astatine The New York Times arsenic a quality assistant, handling scholar emails for the nationalist editors Margaret Sullivan and Liz Spayd, from aboriginal 2016 until September 2017. He near The Times to instrumentality The Moscow Times occupation and get the reporting acquisition helium craved. In 2020, Mr. Gershkovich started covering Russia and Ukraine for Agence France-Presse, past moved to The Wall Street Journal.

Jazmine Hughes, a unit writer for The New York Times Magazine who became friends with Mr. Gershkovich erstwhile helium worked astatine The Times, described a connection helium sent her successful December 2021 telling her the quality astir his caller occupation astatine The Journal.

“Remember erstwhile we were successful The New York Times cafeteria and you were convincing maine to springiness journalism a changeable for different fewer years and not springiness up conscionable yet?” Mr. Gershkovich wrote to Ms. Hughes. “I conscionable got hired by The Wall Street Journal. I’m the Moscow correspondent. I’m successful the bureau. I did the thing. Look astatine us!”

Ms. Hughes said successful an email: “Getting the Moscow analogous occupation was fundamentally his too-big-to-dream job.”

Jeremy Berke, a erstwhile Insider newsman who present writes the cannabis manufacture newsletter Cultivated, said helium and Mr. Gershkovich had been adjacent friends since their freshman twelvemonth astatine Bowdoin College and lived unneurotic for a clip successful Brooklyn.

“Evan’s parents are Soviet émigrés, truthful helium ever felt precise powerfully astir connecting with his roots,” Mr. Berke said.

“He felt similar not lone was this a infinitesimal successful clip successful Russia wherever the state is precise absorbing but that helium was a idiosyncratic who could truly span the spread betwixt U.S. audiences and Russia,” Mr. Berke added.

Mr. Berke said Mr. Gershkovich had made galore friends successful Moscow and built a beingness determination earlier Russia’s penetration of Ukraine successful 2022.

“He was getting invited to friends’ cottages; helium knew wherever each the chill bars were,” helium said. “He loved his beingness there.”

Joshua Yaffa, a writer for The New Yorker who archetypal met Mr. Gershkovich 5 years agone successful Moscow, wrote successful an article connected Friday that Mr. Gershkovich, similar immoderate different Western reporters, had relocated extracurricular of Russia aft the warfare began, but returned past summertime due to the fact that his accreditation was inactive valid.

“It seemed similar the aged logic mightiness inactive apply: Foreigners could get distant with reporting that would beryllium acold much problematic, if not disconnected limits entirely, for Russians,” Mr. Yaffa wrote.

In caller months, Mr. Gershkovich had written articles astir an artillery shortage hampering Russia’s warfare effort successful Ukraine and an acquiescence to the war by astir Russians. His past byline was connected March 28, connected a communicative astir Russia’s dimming economical outlook arsenic it is squeezed by Western sanctions.

Emma Tucker, the exertion successful main of The Wall Street Journal, said successful an email to the staff connected Friday that the work was moving with the State Department arsenic good arsenic ineligible teams successful the U.S. and successful Russia to unafraid Mr. Gershkovich’s release.

“Evan is simply a subordinate of the escaped property who close up until helium was arrested was engaged successful quality gathering,” Ms. Tucker wrote. “Any suggestions different are false.”

Mr. Berke said helium had spoken with Mr. Gershkovich’s parent connected Thursday and Friday. (Mr. Gershkovich’s household declined to remark for this article.)

“It’s truly hard,” helium said. “They near the Soviet Union and were precise disquieted astir him going back. So I deliberation this hits adjacent to home.”

Ms. Ivanova of The Financial Times said overseas journalists who had worked with Mr. Gershkovich were distraught astir his detention. She and others person asked radical to email letters of support, which they volition construe into Russian, arsenic required by Russian law, and nonstop to Mr. Gershkovich successful prison.

Ms. Ivanova said determination were present precise fewer Western journalists inactive traveling successful to Russia.

“What helium was doing was incredibly important,” she said. “It was a communicative that truly needed to beryllium told due to the fact that we request to recognize it.” She added, “It helps nary 1 if Russia remains a achromatic box.”

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