Trevor Reed and Konstantin Yaroshenko: Who’s who in high-stakes US-Russia prisoner swap
Two imprisoned men – one American, one Russian – will return to their respective homelands after a prisoner swap between the nations granted them their freedom.
Former US Marine Trevor Reed was first detained in Russia in 2019, and has not returned home since. Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko was convicted of drug related crimes in 2011 and has been sitting in a US prison.
Moscow officials announced on Wednesday that the two men were being traded in a prisoner swap; Mr Reed would return to the US and Mr Yaroshenko would return to Russia.
“Trevor, a former U.S. Marine, is free from Russian detention,” Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
As Mr Reed's family celebrates his return, let's take a look at who he is, why he was arrested, and why the US kept a Russian pilot locked up for more than a decade.
Mr Reed, originally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, spent his early 20's in the US Marine Corps and eventually received an honorable discharge.
In 2016, Mr Reed began dating a young Russian woman. When he returned to college at the University of North Texas in 2017, he decided he wanted to focus on International Studies, which required the selection of a foreign language course.
Mr Reed chose to study Russian, as it was his girlfriend's native language and he wanted to be able to converse with her parents in their native language. In May 2019, Mr Reed traveled to Moscow to study Russian and spend the summer with his girlfriend.
On 15 August 2019, a week before he was scheduled to fly back to Texas, Mr Reed reportedly attended a party with his girlfriend and her coworkers. He claims he was encouraged to drink large amounts of vodka, which led to him becoming drunk.
According to Mr Reed, he and his girlfriend were driven home by some of her coworkers. On the way, Mr Reed became nauseous and asked to be let out of the vehicle. When the car stopped, he got out and began running around a busy street in the early hours of 16 August. His aberrant behaviour caused his girlfriend and friends to call the police, who said they found him "in the condition of strong intoxication considering his shaky gait, rambling speech, and strong smell of alcohol. Reed waved his hands, shouted incoherent words, and behaved inadequately.”
The police took Mr Reed back to a station, where he was detained for the evening. His girlfriend was told to return around 9am local time to pick him up.
When she returned, Mr Reed was being interviewed by Russia's intelligence service, the Federal Security Services. The FSB is the successor to the KGB.
At that time Mr Reed's girlfriend learned that he was also being charged with intentionally endangering the lives and health of the officers who initially detained him. He was imprisoned for 11 months before he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
He was later sent to a penal colony in the Russian Republic of Mordovia, the New York Times reports. His family claims he was treated harshly at the penal colony and was subjected to solitary confinement. They claimed his health deteriorated during that time – including exposure to and potential contraction of tuberculosis – and that he was not allowed to receive books or letters from them.
His treatment and rapidly worsening health prompted him to launch a hunger strike in November.
Since Mr Biden took office he said he has made it a priority to see Mr Reed returned to his family.
Mr Yaroshenko, now 53, is a Russian pilot. He spent several years in the military and later struggled to find work during the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991. He began working jobs for transportation crews in Africa in an attempt to make a living.
At some point, Mr Yaroshenko was reportedly hired to fly cocaine from South America to Liberia. He was reportedly told when he was hired that some of the drugs were bound for the US, with the rest headed for Africa or Europe. This smuggling operation was part of an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration operation.
The US detained Mr Yaroshenko in Liberia in 2010, accusing him of smuggling cocaine and knowing that some of the drugs were intended for distribution in the US.
Mr Yaroshenko was detained by Liberian authorities and later turnd over to the US. Despite the fact that he had never been to the US, Mr Yaroshenko was flown there to stand trial in 2011. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the arrest, calling it a "kidnapping of a Russian national from a third country."
Mr Yaroshenko claims he was beaten and tortured by the Liberian officials who detained him. He said his beatings were so serve that “during those moments between the torture and my unconsciousness, I cried and prayed for death so I would not have to feel the pain and the beatings could stop.”
Pro-Kremlin media outlets and Russian politcians used Mr Yaroshenko's kidnapping to draw attention to the breadth of the US's extraterritorial power and influence.
His family claimed he was being mistreated at the Connecticut prison where he was being held.
While US officials celebrated the return of Mr Reed to his family, there are still several Americans detained in the country, including WNBA star Brittney Griner. Ms Griner was detained on smuggling allegations after marijuana was reportedly found in her bag at a Moscow airport.
Ms Griner's family and the public have called for her release since her arrest.