All eyes have been fixed on eastern Europe for several weeks as long-standing tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated to a violent clash with the threat of devolving into a larger global conflict. Every day, we're learning more devastating stories of Black people being unable to escape the dangerous situation unfolding in the region, and new reports have identified yet another Black person who has not been able to leave the East amidst the attacks on Ukraine: WNBA player Brittney Griner.
Griner, who many know as the champion-winning center for the Phoenix Suns, is currently being detained in Russia. The basketball player, who has spent her WNBA offseason playing for the UMMC Ekaterinburg for the past seven years, was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport on drug charges. Russian officials claim that a search of her luggage produced evidence of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
"As a US citizen was passing through the green channel at Sheremetyevo Airport upon arriving from New York, a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances in the accompanying luggage," read a statement from The Russian Federal Customs Service as reported by the country's Interfax News Agency. "The customs inspection of the hand luggage being carried by the US citizen confirmed the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid, and an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance."
While there have been no further updates about Griner's case, the Olympian is facing a very serious situation while in Russian custody. Recreational and medical use of marijuana is illegal in Russia, and residents and visitors alike found with anything more than six grams of the drug on their person can be prosecuted by law. (Less than that amount still holds a punishment may also result in a fine or even "corrective labor.") And Russia takes its weed laws very seriously; the country reportedly has the highest per capita number of people imprisoned for drug crimes in Europe.
Authorities maintain that Griner's detention is connected to the marijuana oil in her possession, but we can't overlook the dark possibility that Griner may have been doubly targeted because of her identity as a queer Black woman. Russia is notorious for pushing and enforcing homophobic legislation that has marginalized queer people in the country for decades, and even as a public figure and an American, the fact that she is an out lesbian could very well put her in the line of fire.
As President Joe Biden and other leaders in the West speak up against the invasion of Ukraine, diplomatic relations between the world powers are virtually nonexistent. During this time of lethal conflict that has placed the United States in direct opposition with Russia, the possibility of Griner’s extradition back home is currently up in the air. Since Griner's arrest — the day on which the authorities took her into custody is currently unknown — little to no new information about her well-being or her location has been shared with the public. However, Griner's wife Cherelle took to Instagram on Sunday, March 6 to thank fans and friends for their concern and prayers.
"Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia," Cherelle captioned a picture of her and Brittney. "Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.”
“I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life,” the caption continued. “I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely."
This is an ongoing story and will be updated with more information.