Release of prisoner brings new attention to Whelan case

Brother of Island artist remains in Russian prison.

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Paul Whelan, who remains captive in Russia, asked his family why he wasn't part of a trade of prisoners between the U.S. and Russia. — Courtesy Elizabeth Whelan

The release of U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who was held captive by the Russian government and freed in a prisoner exchange with the U.S., has raised a question for the family of another former U.S. Marine.

What about Paul?

Paul Whelan, the brother of Martha’s Vineyard artist Elizabeth Whelan, has been held captive in Russia since 2018. In 2021, Whelan was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum-security colony. Both Whelan’s family and the U.S. government say the conviction of Whelan as a spy is bogus.

Speaking to The Times by phone, Elizabeth Whelan expressed frustration at how the deal went down. “We are thrilled for the Reeds that Trevor is home, of course. We have had a lot of contact with them over the past few years,” she said, noting that Trevor is ill and needs care. “We’re extremely disappointed that a convicted criminal, Konstantin Yaroshenko, was traded for one innocent American, and not two. We thought this was an opportunity to get both innocent Americans home at the same time.” 

Paul was in Russia attending a wedding when he was arrested and charged with espionage, his family told The Times previously.

The way things happened with Reed’s release caught the Whelan family by surprise. “We didn’t find out until the last minute. We had no time to prepare ourselves or Paul,” Elizabeth said.

On Wednesday Paul was in contact with his family, according to an email from his brother, David Whelan, and asked them about Reed’s release. “Why was I left behind? While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months. The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”

“That’s heartbreaking for a parent to try to answer that,” Elizabeth said about her mother and father.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed a resolution calling for the release of Whelan, according to another email from his brother. “We are so grateful for the leadership that the Michigan congressional delegation has brought to these repeated resolutions,” he wrote.

The Senate passed a similar resolution last July, and Congress passed its first resolution in the case in October 2019. “This unfailing advocacy for Paul shows how slow it can take to build support for an American hostage,” David wrote. “While every American citizen deserves to be freed, the more singular the challenge, the longer it may take to build the support necessary.”

Meanwhile, the family is trying to understand how Reed was released ahead of Whelan.

“It’s a reminder, too, that although some elements of arbitrary detention can change in a moment, others have a very long, slow fuse,” David wrote. “And when a resolution for Paul passes in Congress, we should take the time to appreciate how significant a show of support that is. We hope that it gives Congress an opportunity to bolster the White House’s own determination to seek Paul’s unconditional release.”

The Whelan family remains hopeful that political pressure will result in Paul’s release.

“Fundamentally, one sovereign nation can’t force a belligerent, unjust nation to return a citizen. But Congress has sent a signal, again, to the Executive Branch as well as to the Kremlin, that Paul continues to suffer an injustice,” David wrote. “This advocacy and support continue to give us hope that Paul’s release will someday be effected.”

Elizabeth is pleased with the support of Congress, particularly that of U.S. Rep. William Keating. “Congressman Keating is very upset,” she said. “Bill reached out and had a long conversation with me yesterday.”

She is pleased with the renewed attention her brother’s case is getting. “I’m taking some comfort in that,” she said.

Elizabeth said the Island community has helped lift her spirits since Paul’s ordeal began. “People on-Island are very supportive of me and Paul’s situation,” she said.

19 COMMENTS

    • Well, thank you very much for your support for a fellow citizen held captive by the Russians as a bargaining chip for over three years. I hope your trolling brings you great satisfaction. Speaking as his sister, I can tell you, I have dealt with your sort throughout this entire ordeal and have nothing but contempt for those who cast aspersions just to be hateful.

      • Now to you personally, Elizabeth, one day soon Paul will be free. But I doubt Andrew will ever be free from the hate in his heart.
        Send Paul my love and wishes he will be home soon.

    • Mr Engelman. Whose side are you on? Those who would imprison someone indefinitely with no trial? Those who the United States have been in a cold war with for decades? Or the side of justice and fairness. Mr Whalen’s alleged guilt or innocence are immaterial. Being held by a despotic regime without a fair trial in inhumane conditions is a crime no matter who you are.

    • ….and the the Award for Putin’s Stooge of the Year goes to….. the man with no heart, Andrew Engelman!
      I have stood outside Lefortovo Prison, built in 1881, where the Russian secret police have over the years committed mass executions and operational torture and I can say anyone who believes Paul was given due process, does not have a clue what they are talking about.
      Not long afterwards, plainclothes KGB gave strong indications we should take our curiosity elsewhere.
      I was there long enough to firmly believe there are few humans on Earth who belong inside its walls. That is except Putin apologists.

      • Mr Kozak. I have lived in Singapore and Malaysia and Indonesia where small amounts of drugs result in execution. Is that ”due process”? I have lived in Iran for 2 years where there aint any due process and people should know it before they go. I have been to the same prison you mention in Moscow and in fact I am a refugee from the Soviet Union so I know all about Communism. I have been to Russia 5 times in the last 25 years and support missionaries there. I am not talking about conditions in Russia. I am talking about backgrounds of people and if you read his background FACTS not opinions, you will find enough to be suspicious about. It has nothing to do about conditions in Russian prisons nor anything about Putins terrorist behavior. He indulged in behavior that you and I would not in a foreign country–any foreign country. Whelan is not at Lefortovo but 8 hours away.

  1. Comrad– I guess you can take the boy out of the Soviet Union, but you can’t take the Soviet Union out of the boy.
    Please tell us why you think Whelan was spying show us evidence– real evidence , and why you think he should be rotting in a Russian prison. I couldn’t care less about any “dirt” you might think you can find on him.
    Shame on you.

  2. Andrew, that is an incredibly inappropriate and frankly disgusting thing to say given the pain felt by Whelan’s family. You are no judge nor jury. If you have a personal issue with him—and I doubt you do—take it up with him after he’s released. I’m sure he’d be happy to ‘discuss’ it.

  3. Are you saying that the Russian government is in the right in it’s incarceration of Mr Whelan?, if so you are advocating for a facisit regime.

  4. Since having the ‘pleasure’ of reading andrew engelman’s comment this evening, I have had the true pleasure of spending time with members of an organization providing real support and help to hostages, wrongful detainees past and present, and their families: Hostage US. Their wonderful staff have helped my family navigate this ordeal, and will help Paul when he is finally released by Putin and returns home.

    And I want to send my deepest thanks to everyone here on Martha’s Vineyard (and connected to MV!) who have been by our side as we press on. ‘Hostage-diplomacy’–using US citizens as pawns to achieve concessions–is a national security issue. Russia’s malevolence knows no bounds, but it finds sympathy, it seems, in small-minded people who are keen to bring attention to themselves by any means.

    Thankfully, those people are vastly outnumbered by the kind souls in our midst. I am grateful for your support.

  5. Thanks for this story, MVTimes and George Brennan. I was encouraged to hear Paul’s name mentioned on an MSNBC news show, in connection with Trevor Reed’s release. Vladimir Putin’s off-the-charts arrogance and obliviousness to world opinion in his attempt to subjugate Ukraine makes me fear for Paul’s safety and that of WNBA player Brittney Griner. Griner’s case is often in the headlines because her detainment is so recent; Paul’s is not, although his family has been working hard to keep it before the State Department and our elected officials during the more than three years that he’s been in prison. The more we can do to keep Paul’s case alive in the media, the better.

  6. Mr. Engelman:
    Let’s me put this in the simplest terms so that even you can understand:
    There is free speech and there is hate speech. Learn the difference.

  7. The article says he is innocent. I dont know and neither does anyone else. He is in a foreign country under their laws and they had a court trial. I merely looked as his background as anyone can and there is enough suspicion that he was involved in some mischief. I think Putin is a thug and a killer but to suggest no one can have alternative thoughts about this is silly.

    • Andy– Interesting choice of words; “alternative thoughts”. — Yup, we get them just before we start pulling “alternative facts” out of our rectums.

    • Andy- A typical tactic of you and your ilk; grab a shovel and try to dig up some dirt on anyone you might disagree with.
      But since you already have the shovel in hand, perhaps you could put it to good use and dig a little deeper and use the hole to plant a tree. Today is national arbor day.– I know how much you love trees.
      And then put the shovel down before you dig yourself into a metaphorical hole on this forum that you can’t get out of.
      Just some friendly advice, comrad.

    • If ever I get hauled up for espionage, or anything else for that matter, please don’t let Mr. Engleman be on the jury.

    • Oh Andy, Andy, Andy, in this bit of back peddling you claim not to know if Mr. Whelan is innocent. Yet, the first sentence of your first comment reads “Whelan is no innocent” I’m assuming the “no” is a typo and you’re claiming he is not innocent. Am I wrong?

    • Andy– You did say “he is no innocent” then you say you don’t know ..But if you are so sure about what a bad man Mr. Whelan is, and you think you have all the facts, post them and put links to them. And be careful to make sure they are correct. I would donate money to the Whelan family to help sue you for defamation and slander if ANY of it is wrong.
      Try to convince everyone that he deserves to be in a Moscow prison. And we will speculate as to your motivation .
      And while you are at it, you can also tell everyone why Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and trump himself are not in jail.
      Not to mention every campaign manager he had, and most of his inner circle.
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2020/08/20/bannon-joins-long-list-of-trump-associates-who-have-been-charged-or-imprisoned/?sh=44caafc55ea4
      Don’t forget to water that tree.

  8. Has Paul actually been released?? Yesterday on Good Morning America Trevor’s family was interviewed after their sons release, thank God, and reported that Trevor would now work to have Paul released was his first priority. As much as everyone is praying for Paul’s release as well, is he actually in his way home?

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