Brittney Griner, the American basketball star, who was imprisoned in Russia on drug charges, is on her way back home and will land in Florida on Friday, it has been confirmed. She was exchanged in a one-for-one prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death."
A dramatic video has emerged that captures the moment Griner was swapped for Bout at an airport in the UAE from where she took off for the United States. Also, another video footage has emerged that shows Griner grinning on a plane on her way back to the United States.
The dramatic video released by Russian News Agency TASS shows Griner inside a Russian prison. She is then seen with a shaved head signing documents in the Russian gulag where she had been detained since August before leaving the facility with suitcases. The videos taken in custody were dated November 29.
Griner, 32, is then shown in a video from Thursday boarding a plane after learning that she will be returning to the United States. When asked how she was feeling, she said, "Happy."
The video then cuts to the Dubai airport where the exchange took place. Griner is seen from behind accompanied by three officials while Bout descends from another plane and is escorted by two men.
The two groups then approach each other and stop midway. The officials then embrace each other and within a second Griner and Bout are seen changing sides as they are swapped. Griner is then seen walking away with two officials, while Bout accompanied by the other officials starts walking toward the Russian plane.
In the video on the flight Bout is seen talking to his mother on the phone and telling her, "'We're going to refuel.' We met them, don't worry, everything is good. Everything is normal. I love you very much."
The video then ends there.
Other photos released by the Russian news agency TASS show the tiny cramped bed Griner was given to sleep in as well as the unappealing meals she consumed there. The 6-foot-9 WNBA basketball player was imprisoned at Women's Penal Colony No. 2 in Mordovia, Russia
Long Wait to Get Back Home
Griner may be seen in the majority of the pictures wearing green prison garb, but her short, cropped hair is what really stands out about her look. Although it is unclear if the WNBA star was forced to cut her distinctive dreadlocks by the jail authorities or did it of her own volition, other inmates can be seen in the background with long hair pulled back into buns.
The loss of locks barely makes the lanky player unrecognizable, however. Griner picks up her meal while towering over the cafeteria staff.
Griner's ordeal ended on Thursday. She was imprisoned in February after airport officials in Moscow found vape cartridges in her luggage that contained cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia.
"She's safe, she's on a plane, she's on her way home," President Biden made the announcement from the White House, where he was accompanied by Cherelle Griner.
"Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we've worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release," Biden added.
According to reports, Griner was shifted to Moscow a "couple of days ago" from the penal colony where she was imprisoned, before being taken to the UAE for the prisoner swap. According to officials, the UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke to her from the tarmac in the UAE, and she is in the air and on her way back to the states.
The exchange comes amid rising hostilities between Washington and Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and follows months of talks between the White House and the Kremlin.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony where she was expected to work in substandard conditions while stitching for 12 or more hours each day.
According to NBC News, which cited a senior administration official, the Houston native would first be flown to a medical center in San Antonio, Texas, to undergo treatment. There, Griner will be met by her wife.