Journalist Detained by Russia Was Reporting Stories That ‘Needed to Be Told'

Evan Gershkovich was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was killed while on assignment in Russia. His friends say that he knew the risks of reporting in the country but felt a deep connection to it.

Journalist Detained by Russia Was Reporting Stories That ‘Needed to Be Told'

Evan Gershkovich's friends told him that the reporting job in Moscow offered everything he was looking for: an opportunity to experience a foreign location and connect with his Russian roots.

Mr. Gershkovich is a 31-year-old American journalist who was born to Soviet immigrants. He moved to Russia from New York in late 2017 for his first reporting job, which was at The Moscow Times. His friends and colleagues said that he quickly adjusted to life in Moscow.

Nora Biette Timmons, the deputy editor at Jezebel and a college friend, said, "He was ready to try something completely new. I remember how much he enjoyed what he did."

His friends claimed that he had been hired in January 2022 as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal based in Moscow, which was a dream position.

On Thursday, Russian authorities announced that they had arrested the journalist and accused him of snooping in the interests the American government.

Russia hasn't provided any evidence in support of the allegations, and both Mr. Gershkovich and his employer deny the claim. Russian state media reported that Mr. Gershkovich had been transported to a Moscow prison for trial from Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, where he had been arrested. He is the first American detained for espionage since the end Cold War. He could face up to 20-years in prison.

Dutzendes of international news organizations condemned the arrest, and President Biden called on Friday for Mr. Gershkovich to be released immediately. The top editors of the press freedom groups from around the globe wrote to the Russian Ambassador to the United States, on Thursday. They said that the arrest had been 'unjustified and unwarranted' and was a'significant escalation' in the anti-press activities by your government.

The letter continued, 'Russia sends the message that journalism is criminalized within your borders and that foreign journalists seeking to report on Russia don't enjoy the benefits the rule of law.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which took place more than a decade ago, has dramatically increased the risk for journalists who are trying to cover the story in the area. Many independent Russian media outlets were closed down after the beginning of the conflict, and Russian journalists had to flee. Western media outlets who had bureaus in Russia for decades have moved their reporters away, and today only a few Western journalists are still working in the country. Some journalists have continued to report stories from Russia, by traveling in-and-out as necessary.

In interviews, Mr. Gershkovich's friends described him as a extroverted, devoted journalist who had a deep love for Russia and the Russian people. He was also clear-eyed when it came to the dangers he faced in his reporting.

Polina Ivanova is a Financial Times correspondent covering Russia and Ukraine. She said that she met Mr. Gershkovich shortly after their arrival in Moscow, 2017.

She said: 'Evan's a gifted reporter, and journalism comes naturally to him because he's a great talker who charms everyone and is funny.

Ms. Ivanova stated that they often discussed the risks of covering the country, but Mr. Gershkovich believed he should do his best to cover stories outside Moscow.

She said that he has a great deal of nuance, depth and insight into Russia because he has lived it for five years. "And that is what makes it so painful, because he cares so deeply about what's happening in the country."

Ms. Ivanova stated that she last saw Mr. Gershkovich on a trip to Vietnam in February when she and his friends were traveling together. After that, he immediately flew to Moscow for his most recent reporting assignment.

Gershkovich, known to his American friends by the nickname 'Gersh', grew up in Princeton. His parents emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States in the 1970s, as part of the wave of Jews that left the Soviet Union. In an article published in the magazine Hazlitt, he spoke Russian in his home. He also recalled his childhood, growing up in a Russian-speaking family and learning his mother's Russian customs, such as not spilling any salt at the dinner table.

Mr. Gershkovich graduated in 2014 after studying philosophy and English at Bowdoin College, Maine. After graduating in 2014, he spent a year in Bangkok on a Princeton In Asia Fellowship.


From early 2016 to September 2017, Mr. Gershkovich worked as a news assistant at The New York Times, answering emails from readers for public editors Margaret Sullivan, and Liz Spayd. He quit The Times in order to get the experience of reporting he desired at The Moscow Times. In 2020, Gershkovich began covering Russia and Ukraine with Agence France-Presse. He then moved to The Wall Street Journal.

Jazmine Hughes is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, who became friends when Mr. Gershkovich worked at The Times. She described the message that he sent to her in December 2021, telling her about his new position at The Journal.

Remember when we were at The New York Times Cafeteria, and you convinced me to continue journalism for a few more years and not quit just yet? Mr. Gershkovich sent a letter to Ms. Hughes. I just got hired by The Wall Street Journal. I am the Moscow correspondent. I am in the office. I'm in the office. 'Look at us!

Hughes told Ms. Hughes in an email that he had a dream job.

Jeremy Berke is a former Insider journalist who writes for the cannabis industry newsletter Cultivated. He said he was close to Mr. Gershkovich since their freshman year of college at Bowdoin College. They even lived together in Brooklyn.

'Evan is a child of Soviet immigrants, and he has always been very passionate about his roots', Mr. Berke explained.

'He felt that not only was this an interesting moment in Russia but also that he could bridge the gap between U.S. audience and Russia', Mr. Berke said.

Mr. Berke stated that Mr. Gershkovich made many friends and had built a home in Moscow before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

He was invited to his friends' cottages and knew all the cool bars,' said he. He loved it there.

Joshua Yaffa is a writer at The New Yorker, who met Mr. Gershkovich for the first time five years ago, in Moscow. He wrote on Friday in an article that Mr. Gershkovich had, like other Western journalists, relocated out of Russia when the war started, but returned to Russia last summer, because his accreditation remained valid.

'It appeared like the old logic could still apply: foreigners were able to get away with reporting which would be much more problematic, if Russians are not completely off limits,' wrote Mr. Yaffa.

In recent months Mr. Gershkovich wrote articles about the artillery shortage that was hampering Russia's efforts in Ukraine, and how most Russians were acquiescing to the war. His last byline appeared on March 28 on an article about Russia's dwindling economic prospects as it is squeezed out by Western sanctions.

Emma Tucker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal said in an email sent to staff on Friday, that the publication worked with the State Department, as well as legal team in the U.S. as well as in Russia, to secure Mr. Gershkovich’s release.

Ms. Tucker stated that Evan was a journalist who was involved in gathering news up to the time he was arrested. Any other suggestions are false.

Mr. Berke stated that he spoke with the mother of Mr. Gershkovich on both Thursday and Friday. (Mr. Gershkovich’s family declined comment for this piece.)

He said, "It's very hard." They left the Soviet Union, and were worried that he would return. This is a situation that I can relate to.

Ivanova, of The Financial Times, said that foreign journalists who worked with Gershkovich are distraught over his arrest. She and other people have asked for support letters to be sent to Gershkovich, who is currently in prison.

Ms. Ivanova stated that there are now very few Western reporters still travelling to Russia.

She said, 'What he did was extremely important.' It was an important story to tell because we needed to know it. She continued, "It doesn't help anyone if Russia is a blackbox."