Six months after Evan Gershkovich was arrested by Russian security services, accused of espionage and sent to a notoriously harsh Moscow prison, his family is steeling for an indeterminable wait.
From their home city of Philadelphia, his parents and sister wait for updates from Mr. Gershkovich’s employer, The Wall Street Journal, whose lawyers are fighting his case in a Moscow court. They wait for news from the group of high-level White House officials working to negotiate his release. They wait for their deliveries of Mr. Gershkovich’s handwritten letters from prison.
And they wait for their son and brother to come home.
The imprisonment of Mr. Gershkovich, an American citizen detained by Russia on March 29 while he was on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg, has underscored the near-collapse of the relationship between Washington and Moscow. Mr. Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges that he, the U.S. government and The Wall Street Journal have vehemently denied. The United States has said he is wrongfully detained.
A prisoner exchange, such as the one that secured the release of the American basketball star Brittney Griner late last year, will not be considered until after a verdict is reached in Mr. Gershkovich’s case, Russian officials have said. In the meantime, a court has twice extended his pretrial detention, which will last at least through Nov. 30.
“We are in complete darkness, as far as the future,” Mikhail Gershkovich, the journalist’s father, said in an interview this week alongside his wife, Ella Milman, and daughter, Danielle Gershkovich. “The feeling of helplessness is quite horrific.”
But Mr. Gershkovich’s letters have shown that he is keeping his spirits up, his parents said, so they try to do the same.
He writes to them in Russian, as required by the prison officials who screen his communications, cracking jokes and sharing observations about the literature he is reading.
“It’s a lot of fun, believe it or not,” Ms. Milman said. Her son’s sense of humor, she said, is funnier to her now that his grasp of the Russian language is sharper than even that of his parents, who fled the Soviet Union separately in 1979 and raised their children to be Americans with a deep appreciation of their Russian heritage.
The family has remained rigorously focused on a singular goal: keeping up the pressure to bring Mr. Gershkovich home.
They visited the United Nations earlier this month to call for world leaders’ support, after a summer in which they traveled to meet Mr. Gershkovich’s colleagues in The Wall Street Journal’s New York newsroom, spoke on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington and sat for a television interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
In between public appearances, the family is navigating daily life at home in Philadelphia. Ms. Milman, typically a private person, has returned to work, where she said she is reluctant to discuss her personal life.
Ms. Gershkovich, who last saw her younger brother at her wedding in October 2022, has been fighting guilt over participating in any activity, like attending a concert, while Mr. Gershkovich is held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which is infamous for its isolating conditions.
But her brother wants to hear about everyday life, Ms. Gershkovich said, so the family remains active, and hopeful.
Optimism, Ms. Milman told The Wall Street Journal in an interview in April, is “one of the American qualities that we absorbed.” She has been diligent about maintaining it even as the months have passed, she said, because her son has found it moving.
Mr. Gershkovich’s father has been optimistic in his own way. He still shares his phone’s location with his son. “So just in case he gets his SIM card back,” Mikhail Gershkovich said, “he can find where I am.”