Brittney Griner says, ‘It feels so good to be home’ after release from Russian prison

In her first public comments since being released last week from a Russian prison, WNBA star Brittney Griner thanked friends, family, officials and the public for helping to bring her back to the U.S.

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“It feels so good to be home!” she wrote in a social media post. “The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith and it was the love from so many of you that helped keep me going. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone for your help.”

She added that she intends to continue to play for the Phoenix Mercury this season.

Griner returned to the U.S. on Dec. 9, after months of detention in Russia. The release was part of a prisoner swap with Moscow that saw Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout returned to the country.

The trade was celebrated by Griner’s supporters, though critics questioned whether the swap was equal. Bout, who was once known as the “Merchant of Death,” was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 on charges that he planned to illegally sell weapons, according to The Associated Press.

The prisoner swap came after months of negotiations that also included attempts to secure the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine-turned-security executive who has been jailed in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges. Last week, President Joe Biden said he will continue working to free the 51-year-old, and Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said her family planned to do the same.

On Friday, Griner reiterated that she would also use her platform to help Biden bring Whelan back home.

“I also encourage everyone that played a part in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home,” she wrote. “Every family deserves to be whole.”

Authorities arrested Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, at a Moscow-area airport in February after finding less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage, The Washington Post reported. She was subsequently convicted of bringing illegal drugs into Russia and sentenced to 9 1/2 years, according to The New York Times.

The prisoner swap was the second between the U.S. and Russia to take place under Biden, following the release in April of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed.

Reed had been convicted two years earlier of assaulting two Russian police officers and was sentenced to nine years in a prison camp. In exchange for his freedom, officials commuted the sentence of Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been convicted in 2011 of conspiring to traffic more than $100 million worth of cocaine and was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.

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