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After WNBA star’s release, family of Oakmont teacher imprisoned in Russia hope he’ll be home next

Pictured is Marc Fogel, a teacher from Oakmont, Pa, currently imprisoned in Russia.
Courtesy of Lisa Hyland
Pictured is Marc Fogel, a teacher from Oakmont, Pa, currently imprisoned in Russia.

WNBA player Brittney Griner was released from a Russian penal colony last week after a prisoner swap and nearly 10 months in custody. But other Americans are still detained in Russia, including Oakmont native Marc Fogel.

Fogel was moved to IK-2, a hard-labor penal colony about a hundred kilometers outside Moscow, earlier this fall.

He was arrested in a Moscow airport in August 2021 for carrying a small amount of medical marijuana prescribed by his doctor in the U.S. to treat chronic back pain, for which he has had multiple surgeries. He was charged with drug smuggling and possession and was given a 14-year sentence.

Fogel was in Moscow with his wife to start his tenth and final year of teaching at the Anglo-American School of Moscow when he was arrested. His sister, Lisa Hyland, said he is a beloved teacher who taught at multiple international schools.

“My brother is a force of nature, honestly,” Hyland said. “He’s a guy who is passionate about what he does. He’s full of energy – lives life to the fullest.”

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But she also noted that Fogel, now 61, has a long history of medical problems stemming from a spine injury. He has had three surgeries on his back, a hip replacement, and knee and shoulder surgeries.

Since he arrived at IK-2, Hyland said Fogel received a visit from the U.S. consulate and has been able to speak on the phone with his family for the first time since his arrest.

“All this stuff that’s been going on has been difficult but that’s been the one, I guess, bright spot,” Highland said. She added that Fogel has spoken to his wife and children, siblings, and his 93-year-old mother.

Their phone calls are short — only five to ten minutes long — and tend to focus on topics outside of Fogel’s situation, like what his family has been doing these last 16 months.

“We talk a bit and then get a little teary-eyed at the end of the conversation when we have to hang up,” Hyland said. “He wants nothing more than to come home, obviously. He wants to be with his family.”

Fogel and Griner were arrested for similar offenses. In February, Griner was detained for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, and on Dec. 8, she was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The swap has brought renewed attention to other Americans being held in Russia. President Joe Biden mentioned Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained on espionage charges, but not Fogel during the announcement.

Hyland said she’s glad Griner is home safe and is trying to be optimistic about what that could mean for her brother.

“Certainly, I’m very glad that she’s home. She didn’t deserve the sentence that she got either,” Hyland said. “It’s somewhat hopeful in that obviously there are still negotiations going on, but of course, we want Marc to be the one on that plane.”

Hyland and her family are working with members of Congress to have Fogel declared “wrongfully detained.” The designation would allow the U.S. government to put more resources toward securing his release.“The Biden administration, and the Nation, cannot forget about Marc,” Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said in a statement. “Like Ms. Griner and others, Marc deserves to see his family again.”

Casey and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler and Rep. Conor Lamb wrote a letter in October to the U.S. State Department, urging that the Biden administration prioritize Fogel’s return.

But Hyland said it’s been disappointing that officials haven’t named Fogel when they talk about getting detained Americans out of Russia.

“One thing that’s been discouraging is that we haven’t heard Marc’s name at the press conferences,” Hyland said. “I’d like to hear President Biden or [U.S. Secretary of State Anthony] Blinken mention Marc’s name too.”

The inattention to Fogel’s case has been particularly hard on his mother.

“She watches the news a lot, and I think every time she doesn’t hear his name it’s kind of like another little stab in the heart for her because her fear is she will never see him again,” Hyland said.

Still, Hyland and the rest of Fogel’s family are trying to stay optimistic. Hyland felt encouraged when Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, said she hoped to help free other Americans unfairly detained abroad.

“I’m hopeful that that means the lines of communication can stay open, and I just hope that they work as hard for Marc Fogel as they have for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan and others.”

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the State Department said, “We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and providing all appropriate consular assistance. The Department continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.

We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”

Hyland said she is not aware of any prisoner swap planned for Fogel.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at