ABC Interviews ‘Forgotten American’ Biden Left to ‘Rot’ in Russia

News & Politics

When it comes to Americans being detained and held hostage in Russia, many have focused on the case of anti-American WNBA star Brittney Griner being swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, while U.S. Marine Paul Whelan got left behind. But as ABC’s Good Morning America revealed on Thursday, there was another: Sarah Krivanek, who was arrested two months before Griner but was left to “rot” by the Biden administration and assaulted by a male inmate while in prison.

Fill-in anchor Will Reeve noted his conversation with Krivanek was “her first national television interview” and that she would detail “her saga of being entangled in the Russian legal system, the harsh conditions at the penal colony where she says she was assaulted by a male inmate, and how she feels she’s been abandoned.”

According to the report, Krivanek had been an English teacher in Russia for a few years when her male roommate attacked her and she stabbed him in self-defense. “The next month after visiting the U.S. Embassy, a diplomatic official arranged for the 46-year-old to fly back to the U.S. But she was taken into custody at the Moscow airport prior to boarding,” Reeve reported.

On February 11, 2022, she was sentenced to 15 months in a Russian penal colony. Griner was arrested just six days later. Both ended up being released on the same day, but there was no reception for Krivanek nor evidence the Biden administration helped out.

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To ABC’s credit, they didn’t pull any punches when pointing out the disparity in how Griner and Krivanek were treated by the Biden administration. “There’s a stark contrast between the attention paid to WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case and Krivanek’s. Unlike Griner, the State Department never classified Krivanek as wrongly detained,” Reeve said.

They gave Krivanek a platform to share her unvarnished feelings. “It feels like that my patriotism or my citizenship to my own country meant absolutely nothing. They might as well as just left me there,” she told Reeve.

She was even allowed to her vent her frustrations at the government, noting that the State Department lied to her about getting help while in prison:

REEVE: You said you were angry. Who are you angry at?

KRIVANEK: I’m angry at our U.S. government.

REEVE: Why?

KRIVANEK: For leaving me behind rot. They said we were working on your case very diligently. Somebody’s going to come out to see you in the colony. Nobody ever came.

Reeve even called out President Biden by name and asked for her message to him. Speaking to the President, she said special treatment shouldn’t be reserved for certain people and should be shown to all Americans:

REEVE: What message do you have to the Biden administration and the American government?

KRIVANEK: That all American citizens should get the same level of service no matter what the situation is. Don’t forget about me and don’t forget about the others.

But Krivanek wasn’t bitter with Griner for getting released in a prisoner swap. “I’m really glad that she got out,” she said. “I felt sorry for her because I thought she was going to make a lot of mistakes and infractions that cost me. But then she got swapped and literally genuinely had joy that she didn’t have to endure that.”

Giving the State Department’s side, Reeve relayed that they claim “the U.S. Embassy in Moscow did provide assistance on Krivanek’s case for more than a year, including coordinating with Russian authorities to ensure her safe return home.” But he also noted that Krivanek says the government has not reached out since she was released.

Adding: “She said she feels like the forgotten American.”

The transcript is below, click “expand” to read:

ABC’s Good Morning America
December 22, 2022
7:32:26 a.m. Eastern

WILL REEVE: We turn to an American woman’s harrowing account of her almost year-long ordeal behind bars in Russia. In her first national television interview Sarah Krivanek told me her saga of being entangled in the Russian legal system, the harsh conditions at the penal colony where she says she was assaulted by a male inmate, and how she feels she’s been abandoned.

[Cuts to video]

After nearly a year in a Russian prison, Sarah Krivanek is back home in the U.S. and speaking out in her first network TV interview.

The English teacher had been living in Russia since 2017. Last November, she was arrested for assaulting her roommate with a knife. She says he was abusing her and she acted in self-defense.

SARAH KRIVANEK: He comes busting through the door, busts the door down, breaks the TV, picks me up by my hair and throws me across the room, and starts thumping on me. I’m completely covered in bruises like a raccoon across my eyes.

REEVE: The next month after visiting the U.S. Embassy, a diplomatic official arranged for the 46-year-old to fly back to the U.S. But she was taken into custody at the Moscow airport prior to boarding. Krivanek says she thought she was free to go. At her trial in February, just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Krivanek was sentenced to 15 months in a penal colony.

(…)

7:34:04 a.m. Eastern

KRIVANEK: If this situation would have happened at an earlier time or a different time in history, I wouldn’t have been sentenced at all. And shortly after I was sentenced on the 11th of February was detained another American in the airport on the 17th.

REEVE: Brittney Griner.

KRIVANEK: Which was miss Griner. So, I believe a person could easily say, of course, they used the two situations as an advantage for their political agenda.

REEVE: There’s a stark contrast between the attention paid to WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case and Krivanek’s. Unlike Griner, the State Department never classified Krivanek as wrongly detained.

KRIVANEK: It feels like that my patriotism or my citizenship to my own country meant absolutely nothing. They might as well as just left me there. They completely throw out the fact that another human being, another American citizen is also going through, you know, sufferings with no support.

REEVE: You said you were angry. Who are you angry at?

KRIVANEK: I’m angry at our U.S. government.

REEVE: Why?

KRIVANEK: For leaving me behind rot. They said we were working on your case very diligently. Somebody’s going to come out to see you in the colony. Nobody ever came.

(…)

7:37:25 a.m. Eastern

REEVE: In November, Krivanek was back in court and formerly deported by the Russian government. At the same time, the U.S. government was negotiating a prisoner swap, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Griner’s release from a nine-year sentence for drug charges. On December 8th, both women left Russia.

KRIVANEK: I’m really glad that she got out. I wrote her a letter from the deportation detention facility I was in, said, you know, don’t worry, nobody is going to leave you behind. Everybody is supporting you. Prison life is going to be very cruel. You’re going to need to learn your opponent so you can survive.

So, I was genuinely as a human being what is she going to do for nine years? I felt sorry for her because I thought she was going to make a lot of mistakes and infractions that cost me. But then she got swapped and literally genuinely had joy that she didn’t have to endure that.

REEVE: Now, Krivanek is focusing on her physical and emotional recovery. Still grappling with feeling forgotten by the U.S. government, which she says has no reached out to her since her return.

What message do you have to the Biden administration and the American government?

KRIVANEK: That all American citizens should get the same level of service no matter what the situation is. Don’t forget about me and don’t forget about the others.

[Cuts back to live]

REEVE: In a statement the State Department says it has no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas and adds the U.S. Embassy in Moscow did provide assistance on Krivanek’s case for more than a year, including coordinating with Russian authorities to ensure her safe return home.

As for Brittney Griner who returned to the U.S. on the same day as Krivanek she has a new message this morning and we’ll have much more coming up at 8 o’clock.

JUJU CHANG: Such a compelling interview, Will.

REEVE: She said she feels like the forgotten American.

CHANG: Fascinating. Thank you for that.

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