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Football-loving Evan Gershkovich is ‘thrilled’ by Arsenal tribute as family plead with Putin to free him from hellhole

BY rights, Arsenal fan Evan Gershkovich should be savouring the Gunners’ end-of-season title race from a comfy seat at the Emirates Stadium.

Instead, he still languishes in Moscow’s grim Lefortovo Prison where Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin once caged his enemies.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich is languishing in Moscow’s grim Lefortovo Prison

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Journalist Evan Gershkovich is languishing in Moscow’s grim Lefortovo PrisonCredit: AP
A banner is displayed in support of Evan prior to the Premier League match of his favourite team Arsenal

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A banner is displayed in support of Evan prior to the Premier League match of his favourite team ArsenalCredit: Getty
Ella Milman, Danielle and Mikhail Gershkovich, mother, sister and father have put out an emotional plea, a year one from his capture

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Ella Milman, Danielle and Mikhail Gershkovich, mother, sister and father have put out an emotional plea, a year one from his captureCredit: AFP

It’s now a year since the brilliant young American reporter was held on trumped-up spying charges by Vladimir Putin’s regime — yet the Arsenal faithful have not forgotten one of their own.

Twice this season fans have raised banners in the North Bank stand bearing his image and demanding #freeevan.

His friend and fellow London-based Wall Street Journal reporter Eliot Brown told The Sun that the gesture by Gunners fans had left Evan “thrilled”.

Although he is locked up with a cell mate for 23 hours a day, news of the placards filtered through via letters he is permitted to receive.

Fellow Arsenal supporter Andrew Allen — who helped to organise the demonstrations — said: “The banners are a small gesture but Evan was just doing his job and he’s now living through hell.

“As fellow Arsenal fans we thought we’d do our bit to keep his story in the spotlight.”

Now the North Bank is planning more #freeevan protests after the innocent reporter was told by a Russian court on Tuesday that his pre-trial detention was being extended by a further three months.

‘Strong & resilient’

Afterwards in the News UK offices in London — which the Journal’s UK bureau shares with The Sun — hundreds of sombre staff held up #istandwithEVAN posters.

The 32-year-old reporter is the first US journalist to be charged with spying by Russia since the Cold War, and faces a possible 20-year prison sentence if convicted.

America’s ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, said he remained “strong and resilient” and added that it was “a tragedy that he is awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit”.

Falsely jailed reporter Evan Gershkovich must be freed NOW after one year in Russian prison

The bitter irony is that Evan loves Russia.

He was born in Princeton, New Jersey, after his Jewish parents Mikhail and Ella had fled rising anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

He and his elder sister Danielle grew up speaking Russian at home.

At five Evan began playing football, which soon became “all-encompassing”, and Danielle said: “I remember him coming home from school and practising against the back of the garage.

Bilingual skills

“He would be out there and you would hear it — kick, kick, kick. I remember him being obsessed with Pele, his first big soccer idol.

“Later he was into Thierry Henry, which led him to Arsenal.”

Thatcher Foster, a teammate of Evan’s at youth team Princeton Spartak, said: “Football was such a big part of Evan’s identity.

“Each year he would get around five different Arsenal kits.”

After leaving school he became a journalist, using his bilingual skills to secure a reporter’s job on the online Moscow Times in Russia.

There he bonded with colleague Pjotr Sauer over their love of Arsenal.

The banners are a small gesture but Evan was just doing his job and he’s now living through hell

Fellow Arsenal supporter Andrew Allen

Pjotr, who writes to Evan in prison to update him on their team’s fortunes, said: “Evan knew everything about Arsenal. I wasn’t expecting to meet a fellow Gunner who was an American guy.”

After six years of working in Russia Evan moved to the globally-renowned Wall Street Journal in January 2022, a month before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The journalist divided his time between London and reporting stints in Russia as the war raged

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The journalist divided his time between London and reporting stints in Russia as the war ragedCredit: AP

Accredited by the Kremlin as a reporter, he divided his time between London and reporting stints in Russia as the war raged.

Eliot, his colleague at the Journal’s London office, said: “We’d go out for beers and just talk about journalism and current events.

“He has a million thoughts on everything. He is a fantastically talented young journalist.”

But working in Moscow was becoming increasingly perilous.

In July 2022, Evan tweeted: “Reporting on Russia is now a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.”

He assumed his phone was being tapped and he had been followed and filmed when on assignment.

On March 29, 2023, Evan travelled to Yekaterinburg, nearly 900 miles east of Moscow, on a reporting trip.

Constant brightness

He was arrested at a steakhouse and led away with his head hooded.

Conditions in Lefortovo prison are wretched.

Evan is allowed out of his cell for just one hour a day.

He usually spends it walking in one of the small courtyards on the prison roof, watched by armed guards.

Cells are brightly lit, even at night.

President Biden has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to bring him home, while Nato and the EU have also demanded his release.

During several court appearances Evan has smiled for the cameras and looked remarkably relaxed.

My brother is not a spy. He’s a journalist

Danielle Gershkovich

His mum Ella described one hearing in June: “We went and stood next to him, and immediately, Evan was talking and joking.

“We were laughing. Russians don’t expect laughter in a court. Crying — that’s what they expect.”

Evan spends his time keeping fit, reading Russian novels and answering letters from family and friends.

The Arsenal results normally filter through to him two weeks late and he can watch limited match highlights on Russian TV.

Pal Pjotr said: “He is very happy about how they are playing but obviously upset he can’t see for himself.”

And sister Danielle has a heartfelt message for Putin: “My brother is not a spy. He’s a journalist.

“Please, I just want him home.”

Evan is allowed out of his cell for just one hour a day

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Evan is allowed out of his cell for just one hour a dayCredit: AP

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