Trevor Reed on How a Drunken Night Turned Into 985 Days in a Medieval Russian Prison

·4 min read
Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Trevor Reed, the U.S. Marine-turned-Russian prisoner, said he decided to give up hope while he was put in solitary confinement in a psychiatric ward splattered with blood from inmates who killed themselves—or who had been killed by others.

Reed—who was sentenced to nine years of labor for crimes not clearly defined, but that allegedly occurred after a night of imbibing Russian vodka with his girlfriend—said he was put in isolation and psych wards after refusing to work on what he called a “medieval” prison work camp.

Hope, he said in interviews with CNN’s Jake Tapper and ABC Good Morning America, could prove too disappointing. “And a lot of people are not going to like what I’m gonna say about this, but I kind of viewed their having hope as being a weakness,” he told Tapper in an interview that aired Sunday night. “So, I did not want to have that hope of, like, me, you know, being released somehow and then have that taken from me.”

Reed described the macabre facilities—undoubtedly not so different from where Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan are being held—to both networks. “The toilet’s just a hole in the floor. And there’s, you know, crap everywhere, all over the floor, on the walls. There’s people in there also that walk around that look like zombies,” he told CNN.

Reed’s arrest is by now well known, thanks to his vigilant parents and dedicated Russian girlfriend Alina Tsybulnik, who was with him the night he was arrested in 2019. The two had been at a party where Reed admits getting furiously drunk on vodka to such an extent Tsybulnik called police after he jumped out of the car and refused to get back in. Police took him to the station, followed by his girlfriend, where he slept off the booze.

But before Tsybulnik arrived to get him the next morning, Federal Security Service (or FSB) officers interrogated him about his military service. He was later charged and sentenced with assaulting the officers who brought him into the station to sober up. Reed told ABC News that they later told him they were forced to lie about the assault. “I asked, you know, one of those officers, I said, ‘Why are you guys doing this? Why did you write this, like, false, you know, accusation against me?'’” Reed told ABC. “And he looked around at the door to make sure that there was no one there, and he looked at the other police officer, and he said, ‘We didn’t want to write this. They told us to write this.’”

The farcical trial that ensued was closely followed in the U.S. It was a year after Whalen was arrested and sentenced while in Moscow attending a wedding. “I pretty much knew as soon as I saw FSB agents where this case was was headed,” Reed told ABC. When he refused to work at the camp, he says he won respect from other prisoners who were afraid to refuse. But he was also severely punished, sometimes spending 23 hours in isolation cuddled up to a heat pipe to keep warm. He lost 40 pounds and started coughing up blood, which he feared was COVID or tuberculosis. But when he was sent to the blood-splattered psych ward, he worried they might hurt him. “I thought maybe they had sent me there to chemically disable me, to give me sedatives or whatever and make me unable to fight,” Reed told ABC.

When the war in Ukraine started, which Reed somehow heard about despite what is thought to be a total media blackout inside the country, he said he was sure he would never leave prison. But after Reed’s parents met President Joe Biden, a prisoner exchange deal was made with the Kremlin to release Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving 20 years for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.

On April 27, Reed was put on a plane so dilapidated that he feared it would crash. When he landed on the tarmac in Turkey, he saw Yaroshenko get into the plane he just disembarked. He then took the Russian’s place on the American plane and was finally free.

But he told both networks he feels guilty about leaving the other American prisoners behind. “I had a really strong feeling of guilt that I was free and that Paul Whelan was still in prison. I thought when I found out that it was an exchange that was happening, that they had probably exchanged Paul Whelan, as well. And I expected him to be coming home with me. And he— he didn’t,” a tearful Reed told ABC. “I thought that that was wrong, that they got me out and not Paul.”

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