(WXYZ) — As we begin a New Year, the family of Paul Whelan continues what's now come a three year battle for his freedom.
The Novi man is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying, something he and his family have always denied.
He's been in custody there since late 2018.
Paul's twin brother David tells Action News he really only gets updates from Paul through his letters or sometimes a phone call.
Paul Whelan is serving his sentence at a labor colony in Mordovia, where he works making textiles according to David.
“I don’t think any of us thought it would be going on so long," David says.
He's starting another New Year without his twin brother home safe. He says the prison where Paul is at has proven difficult.
“Rough labor all the time, and not in very safe conditions," David tells Action News.
David says through his limited communication with his brother he knows that Paul is mostly physically healthy, despite a recent work injury to his finger and a persistent cough. Paul is not far from another American incarcerated in Russia; fellow ex-Marine Trevor Reed.
“Paul is in prison camp 17 and Trevor is just down the road in prison camp 12," David says. "My sister in particular is in contact with the Reed family."
Both Whelan and Reed were reportedly discussed during a conversation between Pres. Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin at a summit in Switzerland this summer. David says he's not sure if his brother was brought up again when the two leaders spoke last month.
Many are hoping for a prisoner swap to free Paul.
David says communication with Paul's Russian lawyers is limited, but the family speaks with the U.S. Embassy weekly.
"It's not just the injustice of Russian hostage diplomacy. It's the stolen years with our parents as they age, missing Christmases and birthdays and family time. It's the stolen life, as one by one, Paul lost his job, his home, his ability to communicate and be with friends. He lost everything he'd known," David writes in a recent blog post about his brother's case.
Russia's Foreign Minister says Paul was caught "red handed" with a flash drive of state secrets. Paul has maintained he was in Russia to attends a friend's wedding.
David and his family aren't giving up, in hopes that Paul may still be able to see his aging parents again, who are back here in Michigan.
“My parents are now both in their 80s, solidly in their 80s, and they’re not getting any younger," David says.
Several lawmakers including U.S. Senators from Michigan Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, have pushed for Paul's release.
His case David says, is sadly one of many Americans wrongly imprisoned abroad.
“There are dozens and dozens of American citizens in the same boat. And so there is a bit of a community where we try to share information or share approaches to help our loved ones.”
Click here if you're interested in writing to Paul Whelan or donating to his Go Fund Me account, which his family uses to help him obtain things he needs from his prison in Mordovia.