“Evan’s situation — as any traumatic event — it hits in waves. Sometimes you don’t feel it, sometimes you feel it real acutely, and that weekend at Bowdoin was one of those times where we felt it extremely,” said Sam Silverman, a friend of detained journalist Evan Gershkovich, recounting a recent reunion at Bowdoin College. “He should have been there that weekend.”

Evan Gershkovich in Moscow in 2021. Courtesy photo

The last time Silverman saw Gershkovich was sometime in August 2022 when he returned to the U.S. to visit friends and family in New York. Silverman said that The Wall Street Journal reporter shared “wild” stories of working in eastern Europe, recounting harrowing experiences that sounded like they were from an action movie.

“He didn’t imagine — nor did anyone else — that he would be the first American journalist jailed by the Russian government since the Cold War. That just didn’t seem like it was within the realm of possibility,” Silverman said. “Clearly, that was a naïve thought, but it’s hard to imagine that Evan would be the exception to this rule that’s been steadfast for the last 40-plus years.”

Gershkovich, a Bowdoin College alumnus, was arrested on espionage charges in Russia while reporting in March 2023. After over a year of detention in a Moscow prison, the reporter’s closed trial begins Wednesday, June 26, in the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg. He faces a penalty of 20 years if convicted, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. government and WSJ have both said that Gershkovich is wrongfully detained.

Amid the continued detention and looming trial, Silverman said that he and other friends of Gershkovich are continuously working to keep his story alive.

Silverman and others in the academic community hosted a panel during the May Bowdoin College alumni weekend, where those who knew Gershkovich shed light on the situation. It was just one of the many initiatives to bring attention to the journalist’s situation.


Other initiatives include a letter-writing program, where supporters can submit letters in English that are then translated by volunteer native Russian speakers — as required by Russian law — to send to Gershkovich. A GoFundMe for Gershkovich has also amassed over $93,000 as of June 24.

“We’re trying to keep Evan in the public consciousness,” Silverman said. “We want people to know about this situation where an American citizen has essentially be taken hostage by a foreign government and used as a political pawn.”

A graphic of Bowdoin College alumnus Evan Gershkovich, who is jailed in Russia, was displayed during Bowdoin College’s graduation in May. Friends and colleagues organized an event in support of Gershkovich at the college on Sept. 26, 2023. Jason Claffey / The Times Record file photo

‘It’s somewhat of a shock to find ourselves back at this moment’

Laura A. Henry, a political scientist and professor of government at Bowdoin College, said that while she does not know Gershkovich personally, she was familiar with his contributions to the academic community and followed his reporting.

“Evan has always been a really intrepid and impressive reporter in Russia,” she said, adding that his Russian background helped him play a role in covering the complex situation in the vast nation. She was not surprised, she added, that he continued reporting in Russia after the Ukraine invasion in 2022.

But amid an increasingly tense political relationship between the U.S. and Russia, Henry said that she is not optimistic about the outcome of the pending judicial process. To be charged with espionage — however baseless, she said — is just one tall hurdle in a justice system where Gershkovich is unlikely to get a fair trial.

The silver lining, she said, is that a trial could ultimately open up the option for a prisoner swap — something that many have advocated for to bring the journalist home.


“Fortunately, there haven’t been many instances like this, so it’s impossible to generalize. But sometimes [the Russian government] won’t really seriously engage in the conversation about a prisoner swap until the trial is actually conducted and the verdict is given,” Henry said on swap efforts. “That was also the case of Brittney Griner, where it wasn’t until she had gone fully through the criminal process in the trial and actually been judged to be guilty, that then they were willing to have a more serious conversation about a swap.”

Griner, an American WNBA star, was swapped for a notorious arms dealer, Viktor Bout, after being sentenced to nine years years in Russian prison for allegedly having cannabis oil in her luggage.

Henry said that Russian authorities may be “hard to satisfy” in a trade for Gershkovich, especially since the U.S. does not have many high-value prisoners that Russia could be interested in. Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted in a February interview with Tucker Carlson that Gershkovich could possibly be traded for Vadim Kasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence for the 2019 murder of a man of Chechen descent in Germany.

As the trial looms ahead, Henry said that the U.S.-Russian relationship is at its worse point in her adult lifetime, making it difficult for the two countries to constructively engage over vital issues. She also said that the political tension has created division between Russia and the West, limiting cross-cultural and political understanding.

“It’s somewhat of a shock to find ourselves back at this moment,” she said, later adding, “We’re seeing a divide that is reminiscent of some of the days of the Cold War and some of its characteristics, and that is a real shame.”

Those interested in the campaign to free Gershkovich can visit freegershkovich.com.

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