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Journalist Evan Gershkovich's colleague speaks on his arrest in Russia


It has been 10 days since Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities and accused of spying. He was detained during a reporting trip to the provincial city of Yekaterinburg and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The Journal denies he's a spy. President Joe Biden has bluntly told Moscow, let him go. One of Evan Gershkovich's closest colleagues is Thomas Grove. He covers Eastern Europe for The Wall Street Journal and joins us now from Warsaw.

Thanks so much for being with us.

THOMAS GROVE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You must be very concerned, as many people are. Do you have any word about Evan Gershkovich's welfare while he's in prison?

GROVE: Well, we do know that he was able to see a lawyer and others have also seen him. And he's said to be in good spirits. He's laughing, cracking jokes, as you know, the kind of Evan that we know him to be. So, you know, obviously, there's lots of questions to be answered and - you know, about his well-being and about the path forward. But we have made at least initial contact.

SIMON: I understand you were working with Evan Gershkovich on his latest story when you realized something had gone wrong. May we ask you what happened?

GROVE: As we normally do, we were keeping in touch on almost daily basis. And he was flying into Yekaterinburg, and I messaged him early in the day just to say hi and asked him to let me know how it goes, just shoot me a message after everything was over. And by the time late afternoon and early evening came around and I hadn't heard from him, I, of course, had the strong feeling that something had gone wrong and reached out to him, reached out to our security folks, and we started getting the search going then.

SIMON: What kind of reporter has Evan Gershkovich been?

GROVE: He's been an incredibly sensitive reporter who is able to really flesh out the nuances of Russian society, you know, what pressures people are under. He's able to understand these very well, I think, partly because of his own background but also because he had spent so much time in Russia. And he was, you know, very attuned to the way people thought.

SIMON: Is there Russian in Mr. Gershkovich's background?

GROVE: So Mr. Gershkovich has a very interesting family history and one in which his mother and father were both Jews who left the Soviet Union and went to the United States and met there. And so he grew up speaking Russian. And he was - he grew up in the kind of Russian milieu that had, you know, formed in the United States. And I think that was a lot of what kind of caused him to get this Russian bug and to try to understand his own culture and the one that his family came from a little bit deeper.

SIMON: Did he ever consider leaving, saying there must be a must be an opening in Paris?

GROVE: No, he was dedicated to his work on Russia. And I think he realized the stakes were extremely high now and that the reporting that he was able to do was just of the utmost importance. It was, you know, one of the few lights that, you know, we were able to shine on this very important, fast-changing and increasingly hostile country.

SIMON: I guess 200 Russian journalists and activists have written a letter to demand his release. And people in the U.S. have begun an I Stand With Evan social media campaign. Based on your own experience, does that help? Is it heartening?

GROVE: I think it's extremely heartening, and it's extremely wonderful to see all the support that has been rallied around Evan and what he's going through right now. I just want to see more of it. And I really hope that it, you know, puts pressure on all the right places to get him out as soon as possible.

SIMON: Mr. Grove, based on your own experience, what kind of ripple effect is there from the arrest of a Wall Street Journal reporter, in this case, Evan Gershkovich, in Moscow? Does it deter others?

GROVE: Unfortunately, I think it really does. And I think what we're going to be seeing is a slow pullback from the Western media on Russia coverage, which I think is in nobody's interest, neither Russia's nor the United States'. But I think fewer journalists will be willing to take the risk. And I think, sadly, we'll see fewer sources on the ground willing to talk to Western journalists as well, you know, for fear of getting implicated in what - you know, a similar case.

SIMON: Thomas Grove of The Wall Street Journal. Thank you so much for being with us.

GROVE: Great. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.