Brittney Griner is ‘heartbroken’ Paul Whelan wasn’t included in prisoner swap and plans to contact his family

WNBA star ‘upbeat, thankful and hopeful’ after being freed in a prison swap for notorious arms dealer

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Wednesday 14 December 2022 18:10 GMT
Brittney Griner: Footage released of prisoner exchange in Abu Dhabi

Freed Brittney Griner is “heartbroken” that fellow prisoner Paul Whelan is still behind bars in Russia, according to the WNBA star’s agent.

Griner was released from a Russian penal colony and is now back in the United States recovering from her ordeal at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

The Olympic gold medalist is “upbeat, thankful and hopeful” after being freed in a prison swap last week for notorious “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout, Lindsay Kagawa Colas told CNN.

Griner is happy to be back with her wife, Cherelle Griner, but is still focused on Mr Whelan and helping get him released, Ms Colas told the network’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night.

“She is thinking about his family and talked about her intention to call them as soon as she gets home,” she said.

“She’s really committed to telling this story and making sure that this population of wrongfully detained Americans, that people know their names.”

Ms Colas added: “She’s very, very concerned about that. And will be sending a message to Paul.”

Mr Whelan admitted that he was disappointed not to be included in the prisoner swap but sent a message that “he’s happy she’s home.”

He remains imprisoned in a Russian penal colony after he was arrested in December 2018 on espionage charges, which he has denied.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and Russia refused to negotiate his release based on the different charges faced by him and Griner.

Since her return to the US, Griner, who spent 10 months behind bars in Russia, has reportedly been enjoying Dr Pepper soda and San Antonio barbecue.

She also received a haircut after her signature dreadlocks were cut off in prison after they kept freezing in the cold temperatures.

Griner has also been on a basketball court again for the first time since she was imprisoned.

“I think it’s fair to say that her picking up a ball voluntarily and the first thing being a dunk … it was really encouraging,” her agent said. “She was really excited.”

Ms Colas said that although her client was in good physical health, her return to the WNBA next spring was unclear.

“Is she going to be ready? We’ll see,” Colas said.

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