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Community supports Gershkovich ’14 through letters, social media

April 7, 2023

Janet Briggs
#FREEEVAN: Following the detainment of Evan Gershkovich ’14 by Russian authorities for espionage, the Bowdoin community has united to raise awareness of his story and attempt to secure his release.

In light of Evan Gershkovich’s ’14 detainment in Russia on March 30, the global Bowdoin community has united to support him and demand his immediate release.

Alumni have taken to social media in droves to show their support for Gershkovich’s release under the hashtag #FreeEvan. Additionally, the Office of Alumni Relations and the Office of Communications have been highly publicizing Gershkovich’s detainment both online and on campus.

Director of Communications Doug Cook explained that the Office of Alumni Relations is working hard to keep Gershkovich front of mind for the Bowdoin community.

Additionally, the Department of Russian introduced a letter-writing project for Gershkovich in jail, requesting letters from the on-campus community.

As all letters passed to prisoners in Russian jails must be in Russian, students from advanced and intermediate Russian classes will translate all letters received from the Bowdoin community before sending them to Gershkovich.

This initiative began when Senior Lecturer in Russian Reed Johnson approached some of Gershkovich’s friends running the “Free Evan” website about translating letters to Gershkovich in jail.

“I wrote to them and I said, ‘Do you need help translating?’ And they said, ‘We’d love help,’” Johnson said. “I thought it would be a great project for our students to use their Russian to do something which was very important.”

After approaching students in his classes and his colleague Visiting Lecturer in Russian Mira Nikolova, Johnson was able to grow the initiative from translating existing letters to hosting letter-writing tables for Bowdoin students to write their own letters.

“As students, we want to do as much as we can. We care about this community, and we care about Evan,” Colby Santana ’23 said. “If we are able to help through what we’ve learned through our department and our learnings, that’s all that matters.”

Students in the Russian department, many of whom are working tirelessly to help the College community communicate with Gershkovich, have reacted strongly to his detainment.

“Evan was a really important [alum] for us. He did a lot within the community, and we really care about him,” Santana said. “He’s like one of us in a lot of ways.”

Last night, the Department of Russian had collected over 50 letters to Gershkovich over just two days. Letters can still be submitted through the “Free Evan” website or by emailing Johnson directly.

The Russian department plans to host more events regarding espionage charges and freedom of the press in Russia throughout the year. Nikolova, who is currently teaching “Spy vs. Spy: Cold War Espionage in Literature and Film,” hopes to host a lecture about the history of espionage in Russia relating to the KGB and the CIA. On April 28, the department will host a journalist to discuss freedom of the press in Russia over the last few decades.


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