The family of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has spoken out for the first time since their son was arrested in Russia last month on espionage charges, saying they're "optimistic" that he will be able to return home.
"It's one of the American qualities that we absorbed — be optimistic, believe in happy endings, and that's where we stand right now," Gershkovich's mother, Ella, said in an exclusive interview with the Wall Street Journal. "But I'm not stupid. I understand what's involved. But that's what I choose to believe."
Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities on March 29 and remains in a Moscow prison for allegedly trying to obtain classified information, charges the White House has vehemently denied.
"We will do everything we can to get Evan home — and Paul Whelan, by the way. That hasn't stopped either," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. "But we had no illusions that it's going to take a lot of hard work. That doesn't mean we're going to shy away from it. We'll do that work. And so it's got attention all the way up to the Oval Office in terms of how we can get him home."
Gershkovich's sister, Danielle, says her family is just trying to "stay positive."
"My family has incredible friends and this incredible peer network," she told the Wall Street Journal. "We're just going to do whatever it takes and we're just going to stay positive."
Danielle said her brother exhibits the same strength as their parents, who fled to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union in 1979.
“You’ve met my parents. They’re incredibly strong, strong people,” she said. “And I think he has their strength.”
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The 31-year-old Gershkovich joined the Wall Street Journal's Moscow bureau in January 2022. One month later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
His mother said he was one of the few reporters to stay.
"I know that he felt like it was his duty to report," Ella said.
Gershkovich published a detailed article about Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2022, calling him an "isolated and distrustful" leader who had "limited understanding" of how the war was going.
"I think when that article came out about Putin ... it got me worried a lot," Ella said in the interview. "My mood was changing."
Gershkovich went on to publish several more articles, including one about the impact of Western sanctions on the Kremlin's finances. The report, titled "Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone," was published just one day before his arrest.
The White House said President Biden spoke with Gershkovich's family earlier this week, reiterating a commitment to secure his release.
"We're making it real clear that it's totally illegal what's happening, and we declared it so," Biden told reporters. "It changes the dynamic [of the situation]."
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be jailed on espionage charges since the Cold War. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in Russian prison.