The families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, US citizens detained in Russia, pushed for the release of their loved ones in separate meetings with President Joe Biden on Friday. But relatives said each passing day still feels like a “waiting game”.
Paul Whelan is a former US Marine imprisoned in Russia after being arrested in 2018 for espionage. His sister, Elizabeth Whelan, called the opportunity to meet Biden “an exceptional honor”, and she promised to continue to defend her brother and “all other Americans wrongfully detained”.
“Hostage diplomacy is a matter of national security as much as a humanitarian matter,” she wrote to Pleasemynews. “When hostile foreign nations take Americans and hold them as pawns, we must work together vigorously to reunite those wrongfully detained with their families and deter those countries from continuing this malign practice.”
Paul’s twin, David Whelan, wrote to Pleasemynews that the family is in the middle of a “waiting game”. If the Russian government refuses to release his brother, he is unsure of the next steps, but said they “will continue to work for Paul’s freedom”.
Cherelle Griner also met with Biden on Friday to discuss White House efforts to free his wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner. In an Instagram post over the weekend, she thanked the president for his administration’s efforts.
“It was an honor to speak to her directly about the Brittney we know and love. I felt every minute of the grueling seven months without her. I look forward to the day my wife is home,” said wrote Cherelle Griner in the post, which included a photo of her smiling while standing next to the president.
Last month, Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty by a Russian court of “drug trafficking with criminal intent”. Pleasemynews Previously reported. Lawyer Maria Blagovolina told reporters at the time that Griner was “very upset” after her sentencing, so much so that she could “barely speak”.
After Friday’s meetings, the Biden administration issued a statement calling the detention of Whelan and Griner “unwarranted.” Biden also reportedly inquired about the well-being of family members and emphasized his mission to bring their loved ones back to American soil.
“The President appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and recognized that every minute they are detained is a minute too long,” read in part. White House statement.
Pleasemynews contacted the White House, Maria Blagovolina and Cherelle Griner for comment.