- Journalist Evan Gershkovich has been in captivity in Moscow for 100 days for espionage.
- He is a dedicated and caring extrovert who had his dream job, writes his friend Jeremy Berke.
- Gershkovich’s reporting was motivated by a love for Moscow and for the Russian people.
On a cold March morning, my partner rolled over in bed to utter three of the most sickening words I’d ever heard: “They got it.”
At first I thought it was a horrible joke, but it only took a few seconds for the reality to sink in. I knew exactly what she was talking about after seeing the alert.
Our worst fears have come true. There he was on CNN, the hood of his yellow jacket pulled tight around his head, with a large gloved hand nudging the back of his neck and into a waiting vehicle.
My friend Evan Gershkovich, whom many of you know by now, was captured by the Russian government on March 29. He remained in captivity in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison – a grim old place once used by Stalin’s secret police for torture and mass executions – for 100 days today.
It’s 100 days too long.
Let me be unequivocal: Evan is innocent. He was scapegoated for the simple crime of doing his job: reporting for the Russian audience he loved so much and fearlessly sharing information for all of us back home.
We never thought the risk was real
What does it feel like when one of your closest friends in the world, a guy who lights up every room he walks into, becomes the center of a brewing geopolitical storm? It’s surreal and horrifying, to say the least.
It’s miserable to think about now, but we joked about it on his visits to New York when he sat on our couch. We never thought the risk was real.
It got all too real, however, as images of him trapped in a glass box, clear handcuff marks on his wrists – smiling and defiant despite the circumstances – have been flooding back to us every few weeks since the start of his ordeal.
You might already know the facts: Evan is a respected 31-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested by the Russian FSB on trumped-up charges. You might even have read some of the earliest stories about him: His parents emigrated from the Soviet Union. He grew up in New Jersey, soaking up Russian language and culture at home, but living an all-American life outside of it.
He was a high school football star, graduated from Bowdoin College – where we met – and worked for The New York Times before moving to Russia to report for various outlets in 2017.
He got his dream job as a reporter for the Journal in January last year.
An extrovert driven by a broader sense of caring
But here’s what you probably don’t know about him that dozens, if not hundreds, of his close friends and family do.
Like most journalists, he painstakingly documented real things that those in power in Russia didn’t like. He showed us how, in the midst of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian economy was beginning to deteriorate. He covered the devastating effects of war and how relatives of soldiers back home scrambled to find out if they were alive or dead. He portrayed warlords like Yevgeny Prigozhin, who carried out Putin’s deadly mission and profited greatly from it.
He also covered some brighter stuff, due to his love for the Russian people.
Although he was accredited by the Russian government, he was expelled from the country when the invasion of Ukraine began and had been on reporting trips lasting several weeks.
Evan loved Moscow: the cafes, the restaurants, the banyas, the bar scene. On one of his return trips, he visited his old haunts to show us how life went on eerily, and perhaps beautifully, for Muscovites despite the turmoil caused by an illegal war.
Evan’s reporting has never been motivated by enmity or hatred of Russia. To say that would be to admit that you don’t know him or what kind of person he is.
As someone who is fluent in both languages and cultures, he always felt he could bridge the gap between the West and Russia – especially as that gap slowly, then quickly, became an insurmountable chasm. . He’s driven by a larger sense of caring for the world — that if he tries just hard enough or says the right things, everyone else could be his friend too.
That’s what made him such a good journalist. Evan is one of the most outgoing people I know. He has the ability few have to make you feel like the center of his world when you talk to him.
A devoted son, brother and friend
Beyond his skills as a journalist, you should know what he looks like as a friend.
Evan and I immediately connected when we met in college in 2010. We ran in different but overlapping circles, although our sense of humor, our sensibility was always the same.
After college, we shared a walk on the third floor in Brooklyn as we began our careers as journalists. We swapped co-worker stories, we joked about the state of the industry we were both trying to stand out in, we partied, we ate too cheap and too expensive meals, we watched sports, rode bikes all over town, and shared a vibrant social life like many young people in New York do.
Evan is an absolute idiot. He loves to joke around, he loves to go out and do things, and he’ll talk to you about anything until 4am if you give him the chance.
He will strike up a conversation with anyone, about anything. Evan loves his friends. He remembers the big things, like birthdays, and the little things. He’s the first to congratulate you if you’ve just posted a great story or gotten a promotion. He will never let an opportunity to celebrate pass him by.
Evan loves the Mets, and he loves Arsenal, and he especially loves sharing those teams with people who aren’t already under the spell. I learned this the hard way as a housemate, when he rolled out of bed at 7am at the weekend to watch Arsenal play, banging pots and pans together in the kitchen until we inevitably walked out out of bed to go out with him.
The silver lining was that Evan loved to cook, and we would be rewarded with a delicious breakfast for getting up too early for a group of 26 year olds on the weekend.
Before all this happened, we had planned a trip to visit Moscow. I asked him to teach me how to say “I’m allergic to peanuts” in Russian so that I could practice before leaving.
This trip will probably never happen.
Let’s take Evan home
For anyone who is friends with Evan, for anyone in his orbit, he is the center of their world. I miss him every day, and I know that’s incomparable to what his mom, dad, and sister — who handled this with incredible courage — are going through.
So here’s my request: Let’s all think about Evan. Let’s not let this become another opaque international incident. Let’s all do our part to ensure his safe and speedy return home.
If you want to help, we have created a website: you can write him a letter, and it will be translated into Russian. We have been assured that he receives them, and he answers us. You can also help support his family through this process.
The world is a better place when Evan is free to be a devoted son, brother and friend. And even more when he is free to run after stories.
If you ever get the chance to meet him, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Jeremy is a student at Columbia Business School and writes Cultivated, a newsletter focused on the cannabis industry.