Locked in a small cell with just an hour a day to walk in a narrow yard, he’s almost completely cut off from the world.
But Evan Gershkovich, the first American journalist detained in Russia on spying charges since the Cold War, can receive mail — so colleagues and friends have set up a letter-writing campaign to keep the Wall Street Journal correspondent’s spirits high.
Held in a notorious Moscow prison, where colleagues say he shares a cell with another inmate, Gershkovich, 31, is allowed to receive the letters, but only if they’re in Russian so censors can read them, and mailed from inside the country.
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Polina Ivanova, who also worked in Russia for the Financial Times, is one of the organizers of the campaign, in which a group of volunteers in Russia take the letters, stuff the envelops, drive them to the post offices and mail them to the Lefortovo Prison.
“One of the best ways to support him is to make sure that he knows that he is the center of everybody’s attention worldwide right now,” she told NBC News last week. “The first reply that he sent us to his group of friends, he spoke about how important these letters are for him.”
In a statement released through his Russian legal team Friday, Gershkovich said he had been “humbled and deeply touched” by all the letters he had been sent.
Gershkovich was on assignment for The Wall Street Journal when he arrested in Yekaterinburg by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, last month and detained on spying charges. He will be held in pretrial detention until at least May 29.
The State Department has designated him as wrongly detained — an assessment his fellow reporter Matthew Luxmoore and his boss, Gordon Fairclough, agreed with.
Russia may be willing to discuss a potential prisoner swap involving Gershkovich after a court delivers its verdict, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov said this month.
“He was a journalist who was doing his job, and journalism should not be a crime,” Fairclough said.