When Russian authorities removed Brittney Griner from a jail outside Moscow almost two weeks ago and transferred her to an undisclosed prison facility, her family went days without knowing where she was going or when she would get there.
Now, at last, Griner’s attorneys have learned her destination.
Griner has begun serving the remainder of her nine-year sentence at a remote penal colony 300 miles southeast of Moscow, the American basketball star’s defense attorneys said Thursday in a statement.
Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov visited Griner earlier this week at IK-2 in Mordovia and reported that she is “doing as well as could be expected and trying to stay strong as she adapts to a new environment.”
“Considering that this is a very challenging period for her, there will be no further comments from us,” Blagovolina and Boykov said.
Griner has been behind bars in Russia since last February when she flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport with a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage. She apologized repeatedly in court last summer for what she described as “an honest mistake.” A Russian judge handed down a sentence just shy of the maximum allowable 10 years.
When a Moscow regional court rejected Griner’s last-gasp appeal last month, it signaled that the eight-time WNBA All-Star would soon have to endure somewhere worse than the Novoye Grishino pre-trial detention center where she had been held up to that point. Her sentence called for her to be transferred to a penal colony, where conditions can be more brutal and inmates are required to work long hours doing menial tasks for little pay.
There are hundreds of penal colonies in Russia, many of them scattered across Siberia. Griner’s supporters had hoped she’d be sent somewhere close to Moscow so that her attorneys could maintain frequent contact with her, but they did not get their wish.
“I can confirm that our Russian legal team has seen Brittney at penal colony IK-2 in Mordovia,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas, said in a statement Thursday. “Despite the fact she is alone and now nearing her ninth month in detention separated from her loved ones, she is trying to stay strong.”
The offer for Griner and Whelan is believed to be a 2-for-1 prisoner swap exchange for a notorious Russian arms trafficker known as "the Merchant of Death." Viktor Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois federal prison for conspiring to kill Americans and sell weapons to a Colombian terrorist group.
Thus far, Russia has shown no signs that an exchange for Bout alone is sufficient. President Joe Biden expressed hope last week that Russian president Vladimir Putin would “be willing to talk more seriously” about an exchange for Griner now that U.S. midterm elections are over and Russia wouldn’t be delivering Biden a timely political win.
“My intention is to get her home,” Biden said. “And we’ve had a number of discussions so far. And I’m hopeful that, now that our election is over, there is a willingness to — to negotiate more specifically with us.”
earlier this fall and reiterated that securing the WNBA star's release is a top priority for his administration. Days after that meeting, Cherelle Griner told "CBS Mornings" that Griner is at her "absolutely weakest moment in her life right now" and is "very afraid of being left and forgotten in Russia."
“Letters have poured in from around the world,” Colas said, “and BG has been buoyed by the support.”