Evan Gershkovich was supposed to be with his friends in Berlin the first week of April 2023.

The Wall Street Journal Russia correspondent was set to stay in an Airbnb in the edgy Neukölln neighborhood, a base to explore the city’s cobble-lined streets with his tightknit crew of journalist pals exiled there from Moscow. He was going to drink coffee in hipster cafes and chat into the night over glasses of beer.

It was the start of his stolen year.

Russian authorities detained Evan in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, and threw him into a jail cell in Moscow. He was a fully accredited journalist on a reporting trip and was detained on an allegation of espionage, which he, his employer and the U.S. government vociferously deny.

Evan has lost 12 months of normal existence as a kinetic and curious 32-year-old, a year he should have been jetting around Europe and the U.S. between groups of friends, his family and his reporting trips to Russia.

There has been a burst of weddings and engagements of friends from high school and college. He has missed a year of monumental changes and intrigue in Russian reporting—a cornerstone of many of his friendships with reporters and a key part of his identity. He has missed a year of Arsenal, the Mets and the Jets—his favorite teams. He has missed the final episodes of “Succession,” the finale of “Ted Lasso” and the 16th season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

“A year is a long time. I feel like a lot has happened in my life,” said his friend and onetime Brooklyn roommate Mike Van Itallie. “To just contrast that with Evan being in the same confined place for literally that entire period of time—it’s pretty tough to fathom.”

Glimpses of soccer

For 23 hours a day, Evan sits in his cell in Lefortovo prison in eastern Moscow.

He meets with his Russian lawyers weekly, and periodically goes to court where a judge extends his pretrial detention . Reporters circle around him taking photos as he stands in a courtroom cage in light wash jeans, occasionally flashing a smile.

Friends and family send letters with updates on the world and drama at work. He plays chess via mail with his dad and makes suggestions for his fantasy basketball league. He devours Russian-language classics and history books from the jail library.

Near his bed, Russian television blares news and occasional recaps of Arsenal games.

“I experience the same highs and lows as if I got to watch the game live,” he said in a message relayed to us. A recent Arsenal win in the Champions League tournament left him glowing. “Spring came to Moscow and the lads gifted me the happiest Wednesday morning—another chance to get a small glimpse of them even from here,” he said.

London life

Up until his detention, Evan had always been a magnet for friends , scooping up groups of them wherever he lived. Now sprinkled around the globe, they describe a year in which their lives have moved along while thoughts of Evan’s suspended animation loom at every point.

Evan had just been settling into a new life in London. He’d relocated after leaving Moscow and moved into a flat on a narrow street across from a set of basketball courts.

It was to be the year of sports, he told his friend Pjotr Sauer, a reporter at the Guardian newspaper. He’d started exercising more and vowed to play more soccer with a team filled with fellow London-based journalists, who valued his presence on the field and over pints after games. (The squad’s name: Xmus Jaxon Flaxon-Waxon, a homage to a character in the sketch comedy TV series “Key & Peele”). He would watch more Arsenal soccer games in person at the nearby Emirates stadium. He had committed to a group of buddies to run a half marathon in Mallorca in May. He was out of shape, and said he needed friends to run with.

I was one of them.

The two of us bonded quickly when we both arrived in London just before the Ukraine war broke out. His contagious smile, constant stream of jokes and endless curiosity made him an easy mark for someone looking for friends. He moved in around the block from me and often we went for beers in pubs. We joked about our receding hairlines, gossiped about colleagues and traded reporting tales.

We were meant to go for a four-mile run when he was next back in London, though he didn’t seem to be loving the discomfort that accompanied his newfound fitness kick.

“I’m a broken person,” he wrote me in mid-March after slogging through a three-mile run.

Gatherings of his friends and family have gone on without him.

Berlin is a main node in Evan’s life. Numerous friends picked up their lives in Russia to move there after the war began. Among them is Masha Borzunova, a Russian journalist who met Evan at a New Year’s party in Moscow years earlier. She had just moved to the city and was eager to explore it with him in the early April 2023 trip.

“I sent him messages that it was already sunny in Berlin,” she said.

Over the summer, the Berlin friends went to Sauer’s family house on the beach in the Netherlands. In a past visit, they played spikeball and Evan barbecued. This time, they walked and biked on the coast in his absence.

Missed weddings

In the U.S., numerous friends got married without him. There was his close college friend and roommate Simon Brooks, whose ceremony was at a ranch near Santa Barbara. Friends line danced. Evan came up in almost all the speeches.

He had RSVP’d to attend the July wedding of Van Itallie, held at an old brick industrial building in Long Island City, Queens. The two played youth soccer when they were eight years old. They lived together in Brooklyn after college in a rowdy apartment where Evan was unable to charm a disgruntled downstairs neighbor.

His college friend Jeremy Berke, a groomsman, walked down the aisle with a photo of Evan and sat it next to him. His sister, Danielle Gershkovich, attended in his absence.

“I was so moved at how much Evan was present there,” she said.

He was due to spend time with his parents, Danielle and her husband on the same trip. The prior summer, the family rented a small house by the Jersey Shore, which their father packed with groceries that Evan cooked into meals. He unplugged and wasn’t constantly chatting about reporting or Russian politics when he was with family, Danielle said.

“My brother and my dad played chess—we went on some walks in the woods,” she said. “We at this point would have been planning for another summer visit.”

Evan’s Olivier salad

A particular void was felt over the New Year. When Evan was based full-time in Russia, their group of friends rented a cottage outside Moscow where they made a fire in the snow and skated on a river.

The tradition repeated in exile in Berlin months before Evan’s detention. Evan made his family’s recipe of Olivier salad, a mayonnaise-filled dish with potatoes, ham and peas.

This time, when New Year approached, friends scattered.

“It would be the same friends, the same event, minus Evan,” said Polina Ivanova, a Financial Times reporter who had been based in Moscow.

“It would have been excruciatingly sad” to celebrate without him, she said. Instead, she worked over the holiday.

“Yes, Evan is missing birthdays and New Years and parties and all the trips we had planned together, “ she said. “But he’s also missing out on covering an insane story,” with an attempted coup , the assassination of the coup leader , the death of dissident Alexei Navalny , Vladimir Putin ’s re-election and other transformative events.

“I know how much of a tragedy that is for him,” she said.

Outside life will march on in the year ahead.

His friend Berke is due to marry another college friend, Devika Gurung, in June.

Evan lived with Berke for two years in college. The duo hung out in Thailand after graduating, watched NBA games in Brooklyn and chatted about classmates and work until weeks before Evan’s arrest.

“We have an invitation with his name on it,” he said. “We’re still hopeful he’ll be there.”

Write to Eliot Brown at Eliot.Brown@wsj.com