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‘Because Of You I Never Lost Hope’: Brittney Griner Thanks Supporters, Urges Them Write Paul Whelan

“My family’s whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together,” Brittney Griner said. “However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained.”

By Jill Sederstrom
Brittney Griner arrives to the arena

Brittney Griner is thanking her fans for their support while she was imprisoned in Russia and urging others to write to detained American Paul Whelan.

“Thanks to the efforts of many, including you, I am home after nearly 10 months,” she wrote in a handwritten note posted on Instagram. “You took time to show me you cared and I want to personally take the time to write you and say that your effort mattered.”

The WNBA star continued by expressing how the support of those in the United States had helped her in some of her bleakest moments after being sentenced earlier this year to nine years of hard labor in a Russian penal colony for allegedly carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

She was freed earlier this month as part of a prisoner exchange negotiated by President Joe Biden.

“Your letters helped me to not lose hope during a time where I was full of regret and vulnerable in ways I could have never imagined,” she wrote. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Because of you I never lost hope.”

Griner also encouraged her supporters to turn their focus to helping another detained American, Paul Whelan, writing that, while overseas, she realized the letters were “bigger than uplifting me.”

“They showed me the power of collective hands,” she said. “Together, we can do hard things. I’m living proof of that. My family’s whole and now, thanks to you, we are fortunate to get to spend the holidays together. However, there remain too many families with loved ones wrongfully detained.”

Whelan has been held in Russia since 2018 after Russian authorities alleged he was involved in espionage. Whelan was sentenced in June of 2020 to 16 years in prison, according to CNN.

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U.S. authorities have called the charges against him a “sham,” Reuters reports.

While there had been hope that Biden and his team might have been able to negotiate for the freedom of both Griner and Whelan, in the end, authorities said Russian officials were unwilling to discuss Whelan’s release.

“This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home,” a U.S. senior administration official told CNN earlier this month. “It was a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none.”

In an interview from the penal colony where he’s being held, Whelan said he was “greatly disappointed” that he wasn’t freed as part of the prisoner swap.

Griner urged others to now offer support to the detainee.

“I hope you’ll join me in writing Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families,” she said, adding “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Shortly after being returned to the United States, Griner announced on Instagram her intention to return to the WNBA next season.

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