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Marc Fogel's family hopes they are closer to seeing him after Brittney Griner release

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's another story from the past week that also reminded us of how painful it can be to have loved ones caught up in complicated issues playing out on the international stage. We're referring here to the controversial prisoner swap with Russia that led to the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. While the family members of other Americans considered unjustly detained by Russia said they were happy for Griner and her family, they were also disappointed that their loved ones were left behind, at least for now. That's the case for the family of Marc Fogel, a teacher and Pittsburgh native who's been held in Russia since August of last year. As Julia Zenkevich from member station WESA reports, Fogel's family hopes Griner's release means they're one step closer to seeing him back home once again.

JULIA ZENKEVICH, BYLINE: For much of his career, Fogel taught the children of ambassadors and diplomats at international schools across the globe. In August 2021, he was headed to Russia to start his 10th and final year of teaching at the Anglo-American School of Moscow, but he never made it to the school. Instead, he was arrested in a Moscow airport for carrying a small amount of prescribed medical marijuana he used to treat debilitating chronic back pain. His case bears a striking similarity with Griner's. Fogel was charged with drug smuggling and possession and was given a 14-year sentence. This fall, the 61-year-old was moved to IK-2, a hard labor penal colony.

Lisa Hyland, Fogel's sister, says she's happy Griner is home. She's trying to be optimistic about what that could mean for her brother's safe return.

LISA HYLAND: Certainly, I'm very glad that she's come home. She didn't deserve the sentence that she got either. It's somewhat hopeful in that it - you know, obviously, there are still negotiations going on. But, of course, we want Marc to be the one on that plane.

ZENKEVICH: Hyland and her family are working with members of Congress to have Fogel declared wrongfully detained. The designation would allow the U.S. government to put more resources towards securing his release. But Hyland is disappointed that her brother's case seems to have drawn less attention than those of other detained Americans. When President Joe Biden announced Griner's release, he mentioned Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained on espionage charges, but not Fogel.

HYLAND: One thing that's been discouraging is we haven't heard Marc's name, you know, at the press conferences. And I'd like to hear President Biden mention Marc's name, too.

ZENKEVICH: Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb and Republican Congressman Guy Reschenthaler have all urged the Biden administration to prioritize Fogel's return. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the State Department reaffirmed the department's commitment to helping people detained overseas but declined to comment on Fogel's case specifically. Hyland said she is not aware of any prisoner swap plan for Fogel.

For NPR News, I'm Julia Zenkevich in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATCHING FLIES' "DIAMONDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julia Zenkevich