Whelan attacked by Russian inmate

The Marine with ties to the Vineyard recently passed 1,800 days in captivity.

Paul Whelan was attacked by a fellow inmate this week in Russia. —Courtesy Elizabeth Whelan

The family of Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in a Russian jail on what federal officials classify as wrongfully detained on espionage charges, say that he was attacked by a fellow inmate last week.

Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that Paul was struck in the face while working at a sewing station, causing his glasses to break. Other inmates stepped in to prevent further attacks, the Whelan family said.

The statement says that Paul Whelan called it a “minor” attack, and the prison system is taking the incident seriously, but the provocation highlights the dangers of the labor camp where he is being detained.

“He is also concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to the various sharp implements in the workshop, including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack,” the statement reads. “Paul is a target because he is an American, and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners.”

Whelan’s sister, Edgartown artist Elizabeth Whelan, said in an email to The Times that Tuesday’s incident highlights the urgency of bringing Paul home. 

The longer Paul is held, the greater the risk to him, and this provocation is just the latest in the almost five years of aggression Russia has displayed in their continuing wrongful detention of my brother,” she said.

The White House appears to be continuing to work on Whelan’s case. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed attention on Whelan, in a statement following the arrest and detainment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, where he urged the Kremlin to immediately release both detainees. 

Pres. Joe Biden said last week that he isn’t giving up trying to bring Whelan home, as well as jailed American journalist Gershkovich. A reporter asked for a statement from the president while the Bidens visited the Nantucket Fire Department on Thanksgiving.

“President Biden’s words meant a lot to our family and to Paul, to whom we relayed them,” a statement from the family reads, following the president’s remarks. “Hopefully they are not just words. Five years as a Russian hostage will be a grim milestone.”

Whelan has been held captive in Russia since 2018. In 2021, he was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in a maximum-security colony.

On Saturday, U.S. Representative Bill Keating also addressed Whelan’s lengthy detainment. 

“Today marks Paul Whelan’s 1800th day in wrongful detention, a solemn day in five years of misery for him and his family,” Keating shared on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

“While Paul has endured unimaginable suffering, I know he continues to remain hopeful and strong. Russia must release Paul immediately, and all other wrongful detainees.”


  1. I’m so sad and worried to read this. We think of Paul often and hope and wish for his immediate safety and homecoming. Our hearts are with you Elizabeth and family.

  2. I suggest a vigorous effort by all who read this to contact reps and senators of their districts to FREE PAUL WHELAN!!

    • Agree wholeheartedly, Sara. The devastatingly long reality of Paul Whelan’s imprisonment, and now the attack on him by a Russian inmate, is a nation’s — not just a family’s — nightmare. Alas, I am no longer living on the Vineyard, but I’ve written my RI Representative Jack Reed and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Heartfelt prayers for Mr. Whelan, his family and friends.

  3. I totally get that President Biden has higher priorities, and that Britney Griner’s fans has clout that Paul Whelan’s family doesn’t. I also get that Putin’s Russia is trying to eradicate Ukraine and that really does take priority. But it’s making me crazy that there’s nothing more we can do about this. Thanks for keeping us posted, and keep the faith, Elizabeth!

  4. It is unconscionable that the government placed so much resources behind seeking the release of a basketball athlete, inconvenienced for a few months, while Paul has been subjected this for 5 years, releasing an arms Dealer, I could go on.
    They are the worst negotiators.
    Even many hostages held by Hamas and Israel were released in days.
    This is embarrassing.
    Bring Paul home now.

    • The Basketball Athlete was in Russia to play basketball at the invitation of the Russians.
      She had in her possession a medication that most of the world accepts, as do 38 States and and the District of Columbia.

      Hard to say what Paul was doing in Russia.
      I understand that he was in the US Military, but is not a Veteran.
      He seems to have had some employment with US Military equipment vendors (arms dealers?).

      Britney Griner went to Russia to play basketball, make money to bring back to America and smoke weed. the latter is likely to happen on the Island 1,000+ times this weekend.

      In all comments I have never seen the reason that Paul was in Russia. It would be nice to know. Maybe MVT could publish a full explanation. Generate even more support for Paul.

    • Kozak. Different crimes for Griner and Whelan and their release was based upon severity of the offense. Hamas and Israel scenario completely different since former is being pounded relentlessly and has incentive for release. Nothing to do with negotiation skills.

    • Here’s an idea. In 2024 there could be a prisoner exchange. Putin gets Donnie, and the US gets Paul Whelan.

    • Why would Trump want Paul released?
      What would we have to give up?
      Putin knows a thing or two about The Art of the Deal.
      He got a world renown arms dealer for a dope smoking lesbian.
      The Art of the Deal

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