Since her brother Paul Whelan was arrested in Russia in late December 2018, accused by Russian officials of espionage, Chappaquiddick artist Elizabeth Whelan and her family have worked to both keep in contact and keep up hope that he will be return home. Now, as the U.S. government is working to get Paul Whelan released alongside WNBA player Brittney Griner, the former Marine’s family remains optimistic that they will see him again.

“It’s given us cautious optimism,” Paul’s brother David Whelan told the Gazette by phone Saturday.

Ms. Griner’s arrest in February on drug charges that resulted in a nine-year prison sentence has significantly raised the profile of the plight of Americans imprisoned in Russia.

For years, the family has worked tirelessly to maintain contact with Paul. In 2019, Ms. Whelan’s efforts to communicate with Paul through letters led many other Vineyarders to do the same.

More recently, the family said the Biden administration has been sympathetic to their plight. David Whelan said early in the president’s term he was party to a call with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and 50 other families of detainees.

“That has given us some hope that the Russians might act out of their own self-interest and be willing to come to the table and release Paul,” David Whelan said.

Mr. Whelan said nowadays his parents are usually able to call his brother for about 15 minutes everyday, but mail remains ineffective.

“Really the phone calls are our only point of communication,” Mr. Whelan said.

He said he hasn’t spoken to his brother personally, but through conversations with his parents he’s been able to keep updated on his brother’s condition. Mr. Whelan said his brother has lost about 20 per cent of his body weight due to lack of nutrition.

“The availability of things like fresh fruits and vegetables is rare to non-existent,” he said.

He added that the family is concerned about his health — especially in the pandemic — but maintained that his brother is headstrong.

“From what I can tell … I expect he’s doing the best he can mentally,” he said.