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U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed is released from Russia in a prisoner swap

Joey Reed, the father of former US Marine Trevor Reed, stands next to a placard of his son during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2021.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
Joey Reed, the father of former US Marine Trevor Reed, stands next to a placard of his son during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2021.

The Biden administration and the family of Trevor Reed say the U.S. Marine veteran is out of Russian prison and safely on his way back to the U.S. The decision follows years of advocacy by his family and recent reports that his health was rapidly declining.

Russian Foreign Ministry says Reed was exchanged for jailed pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko in a prisoner swap that took place in an unspecified European country. Yaroshenko was sentenced in 2011 to 20 years in prison for conspiring to import more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the U.S.

"Today, we welcome home Trevor Reed and celebrate his return to the family that missed him dearly. Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention," Biden said in a statement. "I heard in the voices of Trevor's parents how much they've worried about his health and missed his presence. And I was delighted to be able to share with them the good news about Trevor's freedom."

Biden said, "The negotiations that allowed us to bring Trevor home required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly." He did not elaborate.

Reed was detained during a trip to the country in 2019 and accused of attacking a Moscow police officer. He was sentenced in 2020 to nine years in jail. He says he doesn't remember the events of that night because he was drunk, and his family has accused Russian officials of fabricating the charge. John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has said the alleged crime "obviously did not occur" and called his trial "a theater of the absurd."

The 30-year-old had made headlines recently for holding a second hunger strike in prison to protest his treatment by Russian authorities, saying he was not being treated for symptoms of possible tuberculosis and instead was placed to solitary confinement. His parents, Joey and Paula Reed, staged a protest outside of the White House last month in order to raise awareness about his situation and (successfully) press for an in-person meeting with Biden.

A Russian court decided to delay Reed's appeal at a hearing earlier this month, and he was expected to remain in prison as the appeal was sent to a lower court.

In an unexpected but welcome turn of events, the family announced on Wednesday that Reed had been released after being wrongfully detained for 985 days.

"While we understand the interest in Trevor's story — and as soon as he's ready, he'll tell his own story, we'd respectfully ask for some privacy while we address the myriad of health issues brought on by the squalid conditions he was subjected to in his Russian gulag," they added.

In a statement shared through their spokesperson, the Reeds thanked a slew of local and federal elected officials and diplomatic staff for advocating for their son and helping to secure his release. They specifically credited Biden with "making the decision to bring Trevor home," saying that move may have saved his life.

While the Biden administration and Reed's family are celebrating his release, they are also drawing attention to the plight of other Americans detained in Russia. Those include Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow in 2018 on espionage charges, and WNBA star Brittney Griner.

"We welcome this important release, while continuing to call for the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "We also remain committed to securing the freedom of all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained abroad."

Reed's family said they stand with the families of Whelan and all other wrongfully detained Americans "who are still waiting for their own release moment," and pledged to continue advocating for their freedom.

Biden called Reed's return a testament to the priority his administration has put on bringing home Americans who are being held hostage abroad.

"We won't stop until Paul Whelan and others join Trevor in the loving arms of family and friends," he added.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.