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Fresno Woman Talks About Being Held in Russian Penal Colony

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Sarah Krivanek described her ordeal in a Russian prison to ABC's "Good Morning America." (Screenshot/ABC)
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Sarah Krivanek, the Fresno woman jailed in Russia and released the same day as basketball star Brittney Griner, talked about her ordeal Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

While she was teaching English in Russia, Krivanek was arrested last year for allegedly assaulting a male roommate with a knife. She told ABC correspondent Will Reeve she acted in self-defense.

As she was boarding a flight to return to America in December 2021, Krivanek, 46, was taken into custody by Russian authorities. She was sentenced to 15 months in a Russian penal colony in February, weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

I just started bawling. I’m just sobbing. I can’t even speak. I can’t speak in English. I can’t speak in Russian. It’s just gibberish,” Krivanek said.

She said that her status as an American while Russia was gearing up to attack Ukraine led to her charges and incarceration.

“Absolutely. Had 100% bearing. If this situation would have happened at an earlier time or a different time in history, I wouldn’t have been sentenced at all,” Krivanek said.

She said Russia used her and Griner’s situation for “political advantage.”

Felt Abandoned by US

Krivanek said that she felt abandoned by the U.S. State Department, she told ABC News. And, angry at her government, as well.

“It feels like my patriotism or my citizenship to my own country meant absolutely nothing,” she said.

Krivanek described how she was punished while in the penal colony for making a complaint. She was denied food, medicine, and access to the kitchen. She also said a male inmate assaulted her as others watched and didn’t intervene.

In a statement to ABC News, the State Department denied Krivanek’s claim that she was abandoned by U.S. officials, saying the American government monitored the situation and provided support

“The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” the department said.

Remembered at Home

A friend back home who lives near Fresno, Anita Martinez, helped keep Krivanek’s name at the forefront.

“I wrote letters to the White House, to the State Department, to the embassy. I said … she’s in there alone with absolutely nothing. All I’m asking is to just help me. Help my friend. That’s it,” Martinez said.

Krivanek was released and deported on Dec. 8, the same day Griner was exchanged for a Russian arms dealer in U.S. custody.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email