Bowdoin Community Rallies in Support of Detained Journalist Evan Gershkovich ’14

By Tom Porter

As The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich ’14 remains in Russian custody, support for the jailed correspondent remains strong among the Bowdoin community, many of whom remember him as a gifted and diligent student.

Evan Gershkovich courtesy of the Wall Street Journal

Show your support by sharing messages, photos, and stories on FreeGershkovich.com and on this form and by using the hashtags #istandwithevan, #freeevan, and #freegershkovich when posting on social media. Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. 

Gershkovich was arrested March 30 while on assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg, about a thousand miles east of Moscow. Russian authorities have accused him of spying for the US, charges that have been vigorously denied by both the White House and The Wall Street Journal.

“We are deeply concerned about Evan's safety, and our thoughts are with him and his family,” said Bowdoin President Clayton S. Rose in an email to the campus community after Gershkovich’s arrest was announced.

“A free press is essential to a free society and is embedded in the core values of our college,” he continued. “Evan, along with so many other Bowdoin graduates, has dedicated himself to advancing this principle and making it real.”

Gershkovich majored in philosophy at Bowdoin, where he wrote for The Bowdoin Orient and also helped edit what is now The Bowdoin Review (then The Bowdoin Globalist).

After working as a news assistant at The New York Times for two years, he moved to Moscow in 2017, having secured a job at The Moscow Times, an independent English-language news website.

Gershkovich, who grew up in a Russian-speaking household in New Jersey, went on to join The Wall Street Journal in January 2022.

Speaking in a 2020 Bowdoin interview, Gershkovich said the lion’s share of his job “entails reporting news features, meaning I have to follow trends and read between the headlines to tell in-depth, relevant stories to help a foreign audience understand Russia.”

While many Russians, particularly officials, may be reluctant to talk to journalists, Gershkovich added, “if you go looking for the right people, many more want to tell their stories than we are led to believe.

Of course, some will want their comments to be from an unnamed source, which means, as a reporter, you have to make sure you speak to them over encrypted channels and protect their identities.”

gershkovich14
Gershkovich as a Bowdoin varsity soccer player in 2010; interviewed by a Moscow radio station, date unknown

A Diligent, Curious, and Engaged Student

Nine years after Gershkovich graduated, many Bowdoin faculty members recall a hardworking, curious, diligent, and personable young man keen to immerse himself in a liberal arts education.

"As a freshman, Evan was a student in my class Racial and Ethnic Conflict in US Cities. It was a big class,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History Brian Purnell.

“He stood out for his excellent writing and research skills, even then. I checked my files and see he wrote a paper on the racial violence that broke out in East St. Louis in 1917. His research was thorough, even then. He collected dozens of newspaper articles from close to ten periodicals.”

“I had Evan in four philosophy classes, and he was an excellent student and a very good writer. I was very happy to see his journalism career develop,” said Joseph E. Merrill Professor of Philosophy Scott Sehon.

“After he graduated, he and I exchanged a few emails, (one of them commiserating over the Mets’ loss of the 2015 World Series).”

Professor of Philosophy Emerita Sarah Conly taught Gershkovich in a seminar on the philosophy of sex and gender.

“He was outgoing and engaged, and willing to speak up when other students were holding back. For that reason he was great to have in class..”

Gershkovich was also a student in A. Leroy Greason Professor of English Brock Clarke’s creative writing classes.

“My advanced fiction workshop in spring 2014 was one of my favorite classes ever, and Evan was a big of part of why,” said Clarke.

“In that class he showed himself to be a funny, self-deprecating, curious writer and person—always looking to learn something he didn't know, always looking for ways to get better as a writer and a reader.” 

Government professor Laura Henry, who specializes in Russian politics, said she got to know Gershkovich as a generous and helpful alum.

“He participated in alumni panels for our students and met with Bowdoin students who were studying abroad in Moscow, even helping with an internship at The Moscow Times. I have long admired his intrepid reporting on a range of issues in Russia, but in particular his careful attention to the voices of average Russian citizens. I also corresponded with him when his reporting from Russia overlapped with my own research interests in Russian civic activism.”

A number of those who knew him as a undergraduate shared their thoughts and memories of Gershkovich in a Bowdoin Orient article.

These include writer Erica Berry ’14. “He was one of those freakishly curious and talented writers that could write about political things [and] arts,” she said. “He carved this path for himself.” 

Amid the fond memories, there is, of course, shock, outrage, and concern among the entire Bowdoin community regarding Gershkovich’s current situation and a desperate hope he will shortly be released.

“He is a good human being,” said Purnell. “I hope he gets home soon, and when he returns that he keeps researching and writing the truth, just like he sought to do in class and just like we taught him to do as one of our graduates.”   

In the news

Evan Gershkovich’s arrest and detention have understandably sparked widespread media  attention. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest coverage, plus links to the articles (some of which are behind a paywall). 

April 12, 2024: US and Russian officials are using a confidential channel to discuss the issue of exchanging prisoners that could include the release of Evan Gershkovich, reported The Wall Street Journal, citing Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. He told reporters that “dialogue on this topic is being conducted through a specialized closed channel,” but said he wasn’t authorized to comment on the exchange of information or “the signals that pass through this channel.” 

March 29, 2024: News outlets across the world marked the one-year anniversary of Gershkovich's arrest and detention, which occured while the reporter was on assignment in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg. "The world has changed dramatically in the past year," writes The Wall Street Journal's editor in chief Emma Tucker in an open letter to readers. "During that time, the world for our colleague Evan Gershkovich has been the inside of a tiny cell in a notorious Moscow prison, where he sits awaiting trial on a false charge." Read more.

March 26, 2024: Another setback for Gershlovich as a Moscow court extends his pretrial detention for a further three months, until at least June, 30, 2024, reported numerous media outlets, including ABC News. "This verdict to further prolong Evan’s detention feels particularly painful, as this week marks one year since Evan was arrested and wrongfully detained in Yekaterinburg simply for doing his job as a journalist," said US Ambassador Lynne M. Tracy.

March 26, 2024: Gershkovich’s parents, who emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union before Evan was born, spoke to NBC News as the anniversary of their son's arrest approached. “We are keeping ourselves optimistic,” said Gershkovich’s mother Ella Milman. That, she added, is the best way she and her family can cope with the situation. Watch the interview.

February 20, 2024: A Russian court's rejection of the latest appeal by Gershkovich's lawyers means he is to remain imprisoned until at least March 30, which would mark more than a year since he was taken into custody on an allegation of espionage that The Wall Street Journal and the US government vehemently deny.

February 14, 2024: The Radio Television Digital News Assocation, more commonly known as RTDNA, is honoring Gershkovich with a 2024 First Amendment Award.

For details on how to join the campaign to call for Evan's immediate release, check out the "Free Evan Gershkovich" website