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American ballerina with dual citizenship arrested in Russia, facing life in prison for donating $51 to Ukraine

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A 33-year-old amateur ballerina with dual U.S.-Russian citizenship has been detained in Russia and is facing life in prison for allegedly donating $51 to Ukraine’s war effort

Russia’s main domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, reported the woman’s arrest on charges of treason. The FSB said the woman is a resident of Los Angeles, California and accused her of collecting money for the Ukrainian military. 

ksenia karelina

Ksenia Karelina, pictured here in custody, is reported to be a resident of Los Angeles.  (Facebook/RIA Novosti)

Ksenia Karelina

American-Russian ballerina Ksenia Karelina arrested in Russia. (East2West)

“Since February 2022, she has proactively collected funds in the interests of one of the Ukrainian organizations, which were subsequently used to purchase tactical medicine, equipment, weapons and ammunition by the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the FSB said. “In addition, in the United States, this citizen repeatedly took part in public actions in support of the Kyiv regime.” 

The independent news outlet Mediazona identified the woman as Ksenia Karelina and said that she had received U.S. citizenship after marrying an American. The outlet reported that Karelina allegedly transferred around $51 to “Razom for Ukraine,” a nonprofit Ukrainian group. 

Ksenia Karelina

American-Russian ballerina Ksenia Karelina arrested in Russia. (East2West)

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White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the White House and the State Department were aware of reports of the arrest  and added that “we are trying to get more information and to secure some consular access to that individual.”

Kirby refrained from further comment due to respect for privacy, but reiterated “our very strong warnings about the danger posed to U.S. citizens inside Russia.” 

“If you’re a U.S. citizen, including a dual national residing in or traveling in Russia, you ought to leave right now,” he said. 

ksenia karelina

Ksenia Karelina holds dual U.S.-Russian citizenship.  (Facebook/Ksenia Karelina)

U.S. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller noted that when it comes to dual citizens of the United States and Russia, Moscow “does not recognize dual citizenship, it considers them to be Russian citizens first and foremost,” giving U.S. diplomats a difficult time getting consular assistance.

“What happened to Ksenia Karelina is very sad. It really hits home for me as someone who fled Soviet Russia more than 30 years ago and whose daughter is a ballerina,” said former DIA intelligence officer Rebekah Koffler. 

“But it’s hardly surprising. Putin’s regime has always used hostage diplomacy as a form of statecraft and now that the confrontation between Moscow and Washington is at its highest ever, the Kremlin is ratcheting up this tactic to the maximum. No American, especially of Russian or Slavic descent, should go to Russia,” Koffler said. 

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She added: “Moreover, no one should be holding dual US-Russian citizenship or both passports. For the Russian state — if you are born in Russia, you are always Russian, not American, by law. Similarly, when you are born in the U.S., you are automatically a U.S. citizen, with minor exceptions, unless you renounce your citizenship. Having dual US-Russian citizenship is asking for it, asking for trouble, nowadays.” 

Razom for Ukraine’s CEO Dora Chomiak said the organization was “appalled by the reports of Karelina’s arrest. 

“Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly shown that he holds no sovereign border, foreign nationality, or international treaty above his own narrow interest. His regime attacks civil society activists who stand up for freedom and democracy, Chomiak said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “Razom calls on the U.S. government to continue to do everything in its power to demand that President Putin release all those unjustly detained by Russia and to hold Russia’s political and military leadership accountable for their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

The news of Karelina’s arrest comes as a Russian court ruled to keep Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in custody pending his trial on espionage charges that he denies.

The Moscow City Court rejected an appeal against Gershkovich’s detention filed by his lawyers, upholding an earlier ruling to keep him behind bars until the end of March.

Gershkovich being escorted to a van

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted from the Lefortovsky court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024.  (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

That means Gershkovich, 32, will spend at least a year behind bars in Russia after his arrest in March 2023 while on a reporting trip to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains.

Gershkovich and the Journal have denied the espionage allegations, and the U.S. government has declared him to be wrongfully detained. Russian authorities haven’t detailed any evidence to support the charges.

In December, the U.S. State Department said that Russia had rejected several proposals for freeing Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan who has been jailed in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage-related charges that both he and the U.S. government dispute. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

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Some analysts have noted that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips after U.S.-Russian tensions soared when Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At least two U.S. citizens arrested in Russia in recent years, including WNBA star Brittney Griner, have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the U.S.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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