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US-Russian Dual Citizen Detained in Russia for Treason Following $51 Donation to Ukraine, According to Employer

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LOS ANGELES — In a shocking turn of events, ⁢a woman holding dual citizenship of ⁣the U.S. and Russia has been apprehended in Russia on allegations ‍of ⁢treason. The⁤ charges ⁣stem from a mere $51 donation ⁤she made to a Ukrainian charity, as reported by the‍ Californian​ spa where she was employed.

The woman, 33-year-old Ksenia Karelina, resides in Los Angeles but was arrested in the Russian‌ city of ‌Yekaterinburg. The Russian Federal Security Service accuses her ⁤of “providing financial ‍assistance to a ‌foreign state in activities directed against Russia security.”

Footage released by Russian ⁢state media RIA Novosti depicted a woman, believed to be Karelina, with a hat obscuring⁢ her eyes, being led​ away ‌by ⁣a security official. She was then handcuffed and‌ seen in a ‍courtroom ‍holding cell.

Karelina, who became a U.S. citizen in ⁢2021, entered Russia on‌ Jan. 2. However, U.S. officials were not informed‌ of her arrest until Feb. 8.

According to a statement from her ​employer, a spa⁤ at⁤ the SLS Hotel in ⁤Beverly Hills, ‍California, Karelina⁢ is ⁣accused of donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the U.S.

The management ‍and team⁤ at Ciel⁢ Spa expressed their devastation at ⁣the news of Karelina’s arrest. “Our beloved esthetician and friend, Ksenia Karelina, has been wrongly accused, arrested, and is currently being held in the Russian prison ⁢system,” the statement read.

The spa further explained ‌that Karelina, ‌a dual citizen, had⁣ traveled to Russia to ​visit her 90-year-old grandmother, parents, and younger sister. The charges of treason are linked to her‌ alleged donation of $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the U.S.

Chris Van Heerden, Karelina’s boyfriend, shared ⁢with ⁣CNN that he had purchased her tickets to visit Russia​ for her birthday. He said​ she was thrilled‌ about the trip and the opportunity to see⁣ her ‌family. He also mentioned‍ that Karelina was “proud to‌ be Russian, and she doesn’t watch‌ the news. ‍She doesn’t intervene ​with anything about the war.”

When ​asked about the potential 20-year⁤ prison sentence Karelina now⁤ faces, Van Heerden expressed his pain, saying, “she’s so full of life. She needs to be out there, needs to be with her friends … she loves life.”

Van Heerden expressed his faith in the U.S. government, saying, ​”I believe America will bring her back to ⁢me.”

The State Department ⁢confirmed on ⁣Tuesday⁤ that it was ⁤aware of ‍Karelina’s detention. ⁤However, the ​U.S. has not been granted consular access to her. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller explained at a press briefing ‌that ⁤”Russia does not⁣ recognize dual citizenship, considers them⁤ to be Russian citizens ⁣first ⁣and foremost, and so oftentimes we have a difficult time getting consular assistance, but ​we will pursue ‌it in all matters ‌where a U.S.⁢ citizen is detained.”

The Russian Federal Security Service also accused Karelina of participating in “public actions to support the Kyiv regime” while in the U.S. The court has chosen detention as a preventive measure for the ⁤accused, and the ‍investigation continues.

The Sverdlovsk‍ Regional Court press service informed RIA that her hearing was⁢ scheduled​ for Tuesday,⁣ but it has been postponed until Feb. 29 due‍ to the absence of a lawyer.

Razom for‌ Ukraine, the New ⁣York-based nonprofit to which⁣ Karelina⁢ reportedly donated, expressed its shock at the news of her detention. ⁤Razom’s CEO Dora Chomiak⁢ stated on social⁣ media ​Tuesday that ​”Russian President⁤ Vladimir Putin ⁣has repeatedly shown that he​ holds ‌no sovereign border, foreign nationality, or‍ international treaty above his own narrow interest.”

Chomiak urged ‍the U.S. government to “do everything in its power” to demand the release ​”of all those unjustly detained by Russia.” She added that Razom​ is a U.S.-based and funded ⁣charity ⁢that conducts activities “in keeping with our charitable purpose and our legal obligations as ‍an American charitable organization,” which it said were “focused on humanitarian aid, disaster relief, education and advocacy.”

In November 2021, ‍Karelina⁣ posted a picture of herself on ⁤the Russian social media platform VK, standing ⁣between two American flags and‌ waving a paper flag of her own as she ⁣celebrated becoming a U.S. citizen. Her VK profile stated that she​ graduated from the Ural Federal University in Yekaterinburg in 2014, and that she also studied at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Other images of Karelina have⁤ emerged showing her modeling for the stock photography company Shutterstock, including some that show her posing as a ballerina In New York⁢ City in 2017.

US citizens detained in​ Russia

Several U.S. citizens have been detained ‌in ‍Moscow in recent years. Karelina’s arrest coincided with the day⁢ the Moscow City Court upheld the extended pretrial detention⁢ of American journalist Evan Gershkovich until March 30.

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested ​in Yekaterinburg in March⁣ last ⁣year ⁢on charges of espionage, which he, his employer, and the U.S. government⁣ have vehemently denied. If convicted, he faces up to​ 20 years in prison.

Putin recently suggested “an ⁢agreement can be reached” ⁤with the ⁤U.S. ⁢to exchange ‍Gershkovich⁢ for⁣ Vadim⁣ Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in​ Germany for ‍murdering​ a former Chechen ⁤fighter in Berlin in 2019.

In an interview⁢ earlier this month with the right-wing American pundit Tucker Carlson, Putin said, “Listen, I’ll tell you: Sitting in one⁢ country, a country that is an ally of the United States, is a man who, for patriotic reasons, eliminated a bandit in one‌ of the European⁤ capitals.”

In⁣ December 2022, Russia released⁣ U.S.⁤ basketball star Brittney ⁤Griner in a ⁣prisoner swap⁤ that involved ⁤Russian ⁤arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner, who ​had for years​ played in Russia during the WNBA off-season, was detained in February⁣ of that year on​ drug smuggling charges at a Moscow ‌airport.

Former U.S. ⁢Marine Paul ‌Whelan was ⁢also⁣ sentenced‌ to ⁤16 years in prison in June 2020 after being ‌convicted on espionage charges ‍that he vehemently denies.

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