As Brittney Griner continues to fight for her freedom, her Russian basketball family has rushed to her defense, testifying in her favor.
On Thursday, several of Griner’s UMMC Ekaterinburg teammates spoke in court about her contributions to the team. Maria Blagovolina, who plays defense on the team, gloated about Griner’s “outstanding abilities” and praised her for pushing the team forward in recent years. The team’s director, Maxim Ryabkov, also praised Griner for “strengthening the team spirit.” Team captain Evgeniya Belyakova called the 31-year-old “the heart of our team.”
Following the testimony, Ryabkov told reporters that it was the team’s first time seeing Griner since her incarceration and wanted to show the court “what a big role she played in the club, in Russian basketball in general.”
The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been detained in Russia since February after vape cartridges with cannabis oil were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport. Last week, she pleaded guilty in the case and is now facing ten years in prison. U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul believes that the only way Griner can get back to the United States is if an exchange takes place. McFaul has asked the U.S. to consider exchanging imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner.
Griner’s trial is expected to conclude in August.