Skip to Content

Russia arrests US-Russian citizen for treason after she gave $51 to Ukraine, employer says


By Sebastian Shukla, Nathan Hodge, Anna Chernova, Maria Kostenko and Christian Edwards, CNN

(CNN) — A US-Russian dual citizen was arrested in Russia on charges of treason for allegedly donating just $51 to a Ukrainian charity, her Californian employer said.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said the detainee, a 33-year-old woman who lives in Los Angeles, was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg for “providing financial assistance to a foreign state in activities directed against Russia security.”

Video shared by Russian state media RIA Novosti showed a woman with a hat pulled over her eyes being escorted by a security official before being handcuffed and appearing in a courtroom holding cell.

A US official told CNN the woman is Ksenia Karelina, who became a US citizen in 2021. Karelina entered Russia on January 2 and the US learned of her arrest on February 8, the official said.

Karelina is accused of donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the US, according to a statement from her employer, a spa at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California.

“Ciel Spa management and team is devastated to share that our beloved esthetician and friend, Ksenia Karelina, has been wrongly accused, arrested, and [is] currently being held in the Russian Prison system,” the statement said.

“Ksenia, a dual citizen, went to Russia to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, parents and younger sister. She has been accused of treason for allegedly donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the US.”

The State Department on Tuesday said it was aware of Karelina’s detention and that the US has not been granted consular access to her.

“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 US citizen is detained,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press briefing.

The FSB also accused the woman of taking part in “public actions to support the Kyiv regime” while in the US. “Operational search activities and investigative actions continue. The court chose a preventive measure in the form of detention for the accused,” it said.

The Sverdlovsk Regional Court press service told RIA her hearing was meant to take place on Tuesday, but due to the absence of a lawyer it has now been postponed until February 29.

New York-based non-profit Razom for Ukraine, the organization Karelina reportedly gave funds to, said it was “appalled” by reports of her detention.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly shown that he holds no sovereign border, foreign nationality, or international treaty above his own narrow interest,” said Razom’s CEO Dora Chomiak in a statement posted on social media Tuesday.

Razom urged the US government to “do everything in its power” to demand the release “of all those unjustly detained by Russia,” Chomiak said.

She added that Razom is a US-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 a post on Russian social media platform VK in November 2021, Karelina shared a picture of herself standing between two American flags and waving a paper flag of her own as she celebrated becoming a US citizen. Her VK profile said 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

Moscow has detained several US citizens in recent years, and the woman’s arrest came on the same day that the Moscow City Court upheld American journalist Evan Gershkovich’s extended pre-trial detention 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 US government have strenuously denied. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested “an agreement can be reached” with the US to exchange Gershkovich for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a former Chechen fighter in Berlin in 2019.

“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,” Putin said in an interview earlier this month with the right-wing American pundit Tucker Carlson.

In December 2022, Russia released US 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 US Marine Paul Whelan was also sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020 after being convicted on espionage charges that he vehemently denies.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed reporting

Article Topic Follows: CNN - World

Jump to comments ↓



KRDO NewsChannel 13 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content