“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” said U.S. President Joe Biden. “She is safe. She is on a plane.”

By Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams

U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association player Brittney Griner on Thursday was freed from a Russian penal colony and is headed home thanks to a prisoner exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

free brittney griner sign

“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” tweeted U.S. President Joe Biden, who also spoke about the development from the White House alongside Cherelle Griner, the WNBA star’s wife. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Cherelle Griner expressed her “sincere gratitude” for Biden and others in his administration—including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken—and said that “today’s just a happy day for me and my family.”

The American basketball star has for years played for Russia’s team during the WNBA’s offseason. Earlier this year, she was sentenced to nine years in prison after cannabis oil was found in her suitcase at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow.

“Her status as a gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LGBTQIA+ community, infused gender, racial and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance,” ESPN noted.

As CNN reported, “Bout, nicknamed the ‘Merchant of Death,’ is a former Soviet military officer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization.”

Biden confirmed that the swap did not include Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned by Russia, but vowed to continue negotiations to free him. As the U.S. president put it: “We are not giving up. We will never give up.”

His brother, David Whelan, said that “I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home. As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays.”

“The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” he added.