December 8, 2023

The family of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has broken their silence. They remained out of the spotlight since his arrest on March 29 in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg until today. His mother said in an interview videotaped by The Wall Street Journal that she remains optimistic, but she is not stupid.

That is the kind of realistic approach you might expect from this family. Their son was working out of the Moscow bureau of the WSJ because of his passion for the people in Russia. He chose to remain in the country when Putin invaded Ukraine. Evan’s parents emigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union. Ella and Mikhail fled the USSR separately in 1979 and met in New York City where they worked for the same company. They settled in New Jersey and raised their two children there. They understand very well the mindset of someone like Mad Vlad Putin, a holdover from the past.

The Wall Street Journal sat down with Ella, Mikhail, and Evan’s sister, Danielle. They say Evan felt it was his duty to report on the Russian people, even though there are risks in reporting in authoritarian countries. His mother said, “He loves the Russian people.”

“It’s one of the American qualities that we absorbed, be optimistic, believe in happy, happy endings, and that’s where we stand right now,” Gershkovich’s mother, Ella Milman, told the Journal in an interview published on Friday.

“But I am not stupid. I understand what’s involved. But that’s what I choose to believe,” she said.

Their son’s arrest on espionage charges was a shock to them, they say, though his mother had a feeling that something was not quite right before the arrest happened. Call it a mother’s intuition, a sixth sense. She knew there was with her son’s time working there.

Gershkovich’s mother, Ella Milman, stated, “It was a shock. At the same time, I had this uncertainty… That’s why I reached [out] to him on Monday, and on Wednesday he was arrested.”

She told the outlet that news of her son’s arrest reminded her and her husband of the oppressive regime they left to come to America long ago. “It was just like, crushing, totally crushing. That experience all came back from the Soviet Union.”

Evan and Danielle were raised to appreciate the family’s Russian heritage. Danielle said, “Our parents raised us to have pride in where we come from. We got to be proud of where we come from and tried to share that as much as we could in school.” Evan’s love of their heritage and his skill with the Russian language led him to be a reporter in Moscow. He developed a passion for Russian culture, according to Danielle.

Eventually, Evan’s love for Russia would connect his parents back to the country they had to flee. His mother said, “We saw Russia through his eyes. Everything was exciting, everything was beautiful.” She added that she eventually “accepted the new Russia” after coming to know it through Evan.

Evan’s passion for Russia would also inspire him to commit to reporting there during the crisis and really try to convey the “nuance” and “beauty” of the country and its culture despite it being portrayed in the media as a “terrifying, cold place,” his sister said.

He began reporting for the Wall Street Journal in Russia about the time of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He told his mother he was one of the few foreign reporters left in Russia.

Danielle said her brother has the strength of her parents. She last saw Evan at her wedding. “You’ve met my parents. They’re incredibly strong, strong people,” she told the interviewer. “And I think he has their strength.”

It’s hard to imagine the harrowing experience this must be for the family. His parents are all too familiar with the potential brutality their son faces at the discretion of a madman like Putin and his henchmen. Keeping hope and optimism must be a tall order for them.