Jewish-American journalist Evan Gershkovich’s fight for freedom in Russia, explained

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in Russia in March 2023 on unsubstantiated charges, and has been detained in a Russian prison ever since.
The Independent Association of Publishers' Employees and Wall Street Journal journalists rally in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2023, calling for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been held in Russia since March 29. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

In a recent interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a prisoner swap for Jewish-American journalist Evan Gershkovich may be possible, but that Russia expects something from the U.S. in return.

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in Russia on March 29, 2023, on unsubstantiated charges and has been detained in a Russian prison ever since. Here’s everything you need to know about Gershkovich’s situation and the U.S. effort to free him.

Who is Evan Gershkovich and why is he being detained?

A picture taken on July 24, 2021 shows journalist Evan Gershkovich. (Photo by Dmimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)

Evan Gershkovich, now 32, was born in Princeton, New Jersey, to Jewish parents who immigrated from the former Soviet Union. Although he was raised in the U.S., he had been working and living in Moscow as a journalist for six years before his arrest.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on charges of spying to obtain defense secrets. He is being detained without a trial, which was recently postponed until March 2024, and the Russian government has not provided any evidence to back up its claims. In April 2023, Gershkovich appealed his arrest to the Russian courts, but his appeal was denied. 

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants’ cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended pre-trial detention at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on September 19, 2023. (Photo by Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

Both he and The Wall Street Journal reject the accusations, and the U.S. government designates him as wrongfully imprisoned. Gershkovich is the first journalist to be arrested on charges of espionage since the Soviet era.

“Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime,” The Wall Street Journal stated. “Any portrayal to the contrary is total fiction. Evan was unjustly arrested and has been wrongfully detained by Russia for nearly a year for doing his job, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”

The Biden administration speculates that Russia is knowingly wrongfully imprisoning Gershkovich to use as a bargaining chip to release Russian prisoners. “The grounds for Evan’s detention are baseless,” the U.S. embassy in Moscow tweeted in January. “Journalism is not a crime. We continue to call for Evan’s immediate release.”

What did Putin tell Carlson in the interview?

Last week, Putin told Carlson that he believed “an agreement can be reached” to release Gershkovich. “We are willing to solve it, but there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels,” the Russian president said.

Putin said that he did not “rule out” that Gershkovich would return home, but said that Russia expects a reciprocal gesture in return.

“We have done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency that I think we have run out of them,” he stated, without specifying what those “gestures of goodwill” were but insisting that they have “never been reciprocated.” 

“At the end of the day, it does not make sense to keep him in prison in Russia. We want the U.S. special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing,” Putin added. 

During the interview, Putin hinted that he might be willing to trade the reporter for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian prisoner in Germany serving a life sentence for the 2019 murder of a former Chechen separatist fighter. 

Germany and the U.S. are allies against Russia, and the U.S. would need to ask Germany to release a convicted murderer on its territory to secure the freedom of a U.S. citizen. Germany has declined comment on reports that Russia might be seeking to swap Krasikov for Gershkovich. 

The Wall Street Journal said it was “encouraged to see Russia’s desire for a deal that brings Evan home, and we hope this will lead to his rapid release and return to his family and our newsroom.” 

How is the U.S. government responding?

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as an image of US journalist Evan Gershkovich appears onscreen during the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC, April 29, 2023. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

After Gershkovich’s arrest, the U.S. government swiftly took several actions to address the situation, but none have resulted in his release so far. Here’s a timeline:

  • On April 2, a few days after Gershkovich’s arrest, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, expressing “grave concern” about the situation and calling for his release. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated claims of Gershkovich’s “illegal activities.”
  • On April 10, the U.S. State Department officially designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” which transferred his case to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs and signaled an increased effort to secure his release.
  • On April 27, the Biden administration intensified its response, sanctioning Russia’s Federal Security Service for wrongfully detaining Americans.
  • In early December, the U.S. State Department said it made a “new and significant” proposal” to Russia for Gershkovich’s release, but Russia rejected the proposal. State Department Matthew Miller said it was one of “significant proposals that were made in good faith.”
  • In January 2024, the White House stated that President Biden is “personally engaged” in efforts to bring home wrongfully detained U.S. citizens, including Gershkovich.
  • Responding to Putin’s recent interview with Carlson, the U.S. State Department said that “Gershkovich never should have been detained in the first place,” adding that he should be freed immediately, and declining to comment on any prisoner exchange deal.

How is the Jewish world responding?

The Jewish world has rallied behind Gershkovich and his family in support of his release.

In April 2023, former Soviet Jewish prisoner Natan Sharansky, who spent time in the Lefortovo prison where Gershkovich is being held, released a video calling on Russia to immediately free the reporter. 

Sharansky said Lefortovo is one of “the most isolated” prisons in the world and that the KGB is most likely keeping Gershkovich shut out from the world by restricting his communication and access. He urged world leaders to pressure Putin for Gershkovich’s release.

Last Passover, Jewish families around the world left an empty seat at their seder table in honor of Gershkovich:

Leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish Federations of North America organized a campaign that sent the journalist more than 2,000 letters wishing him a happy new year.

Several Jewish public figures have used their platforms to raise awareness for Gershkovich. CNN news anchor and Jewish journalist Jake Tapper has been tweeting daily messages calling for Gershkovich’s release.

What happens next?

Last month, the Russian government extended Gershkovich’s detention until March 30, 2024 — the fourth extension of his detention since he was arrested.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if he is found guilty. The U.S. also believes that another American, Paul Whelan — a corporate-security executive from Michigan and former U.S. Marine — is unjustly imprisoned in Russia. Most experts believe a prisoner exchange is the most likely way to secure Gershkovich and Whelan’s release.

Russian officials have suggested that any prisoner swap with the U.S. would only occur after Gershkovich’s trial.

Since 2022, there have been two prisoner swaps between the U.S. and Russia, resulting in the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed and WNBA star Brittney Griner, both of whom the U.S. also considered to be wrongfully detained in Russia. 

How to help:

  • Learn more about the campaign to free Gershkovich at, a website started by his friends and family. You can purchase a #FreeEvan hat and donate to his GoFundMe through the website.
  • Show your support for Evan by sending him a letter at His family and friends are working to send all letters of support to the journalist.
  • Spread awareness by using the hashtags #IStandWithEvan and #FreeEvan on social media and follow @FreeGershkovich on Twitter and Instagram for updates.

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