Evan Gershkovich loved Russia, the country that turned its back on him. The Wall Street Journal reporter, whose parents fled the Soviet Union, made Moscow his second home. He was arrested and charged with espionage, an allegation that the newspaper and President Biden vehemently deny
At 10:35 a.m. Thursday morning Moscow time, Russia’s state news agency reported that Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage by the Federal Security Service. It was the first time Russia had indicted a reporter for espionage since the Cold War. Images on Russian state television showed Gershkovich escorted by plainclothes agents.
Gershkovich, 31, is the American son of Jewish exiles born in the Soviet Union who settled in New Jersey. He fell in love with Russia and its language, the people he chatted with for hours in regional bars, now he faces 20 years in prison on espionage charges, which President Biden and the press strongly deny.
His employer, colleagues and the Biden administration deny Russia’s claim that he was a spy for the United States, and have called for his immediate release. Diplomats and legal experts see little hope that Gershkovich, a reporter who received a work permit in Russia from the Russian Foreign Ministry, will be released immediately, given that the Russian espionage trials are ongoing Secretly and almost always end in conviction.
Almost all Western journalists left Russia following Gershkovich’s arrest. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal released its Moscow bureau chief, a veteran reporter who has covered the country since the last years of the Cold War. Many Western news agencies that sent reporters to Moscow under the dictator Stalin determined that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia was too dangerous for journalism.
The mother of the Jewish journalist who was arrested in Russia for the crime of espionage, was 22 years old when she fled the Soviet Union using Israeli documents, (no detailed information about this has been published). She was smuggled in by her own mother, a Ukrainian nurse and Holocaust survivor who used to cry when she talked about the extermination camp survivors she treated in a Polish military hospital at the end of World War II. Before they fled Russia they heard rumors that the Jews of the Soviet Union were about to be deported to Siberia.
Evan Gershkovich’s father, Mikhail, also left the Soviet Union as part of the same wave of Jewish immigration. The two met in Detroit and then moved to New Jersey, where Owen and his older sister, Dosia, grew up. His mother said the Iron Curtain era made her son more interested in his Russian and Jewish roots. One day, decades after the fall of communism, she took him to a building she had been afraid to visit as a girl: a synagogue. She was told that anyone who entered would be photographed and arrested by the Secret Service, “so Owen started to understand us better,” she said. Evan Gershkovich’s father and sister also previously visited Moscow at the new Jewish Museum in the city.