A Russian court rejects the appeal of Ksenia Karelina, a Los Angeles woman detained for “treason”

A Russian judge on Thursday denied the appeal of a Los Angeles woman detained for “treason,” apparently for making a small donation to a charity helping Ukraine.

Russian media reported that Ksenia Karelina, 32, a dual US-Russian citizen, appeared via video conference at the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in the city of Yekaterinburg, where Russian security agents arrested her on January 27. She was shown behind bars wearing a white long-sleeved shirt.

Reports say the judge rejected a request from Karelina's lawyer that she be released to remain under house arrest with her parents in Yekaterinburg before the trial.

“What is happening to Ksenia is a terrible punishment,” said Isabella Koretz, a friend who owns the Ciel Spa in Beverly Hills, where Karelina works as an esthetician. “Imagine that an American citizen is in a Russian prison right now for making a donation to war victims and for having the audacity to visit her parents. Are these really her crimes?

“The American government and all of us here must continue to fight for his release.”

Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced the arrest on February 20, when it said a Los Angeles woman was “proactively raising funds in the interests of one of the Ukrainian organizations.”

Independent media identified her as Ksenia Khavana, her married name before the divorce, and said she was arrested for donating just over $50 to Razom for Ukraine, or Together for Ukraine, a New York-based group that provides aid. humanitarian to Ukraine.

Karelina briefly appeared in court that day handcuffed and wearing a white jacket and a cap pulled down over her eyes. A man dressed in a military uniform escorted her. The trial date was postponed because Karelina did not have a lawyer.

According to the Russian state media agency TASS, he will remain in pretrial detention until at least April.

Experts on U.S.-Russian relations expect her to remain in a Russian prison much longer.

“There is a tremendous repression going on in Russia and it seems that because she is an American, she is caught up in it,” said Brian D. Taylor, a political science professor at Syracuse University.

The US State Department said consular access has been denied to Karelina, who immigrated to the United States more than a decade ago and became a US citizen in 2021.

Russian law normally treats dual citizens solely as Russian citizens.

Karelina, an amateur dancer who moved to Los Angeles in 2015 from Maryland, had traveled to Russia to visit her parents, younger sister and grandmother, according to Chris Van Heerden, her boyfriend who lived with her in West Los Angeles. .

Van Heerden, 36, said Russian agents immediately questioned Karelina upon their arrival on Jan. 2 and took her phone. He said the FSB told him to communicate weekly with security officials and banned him from leaving Yekaterinburg, where he grew up.

Van Heerdan said he spoke to Karelina on the night of January 26 from Los Angeles (January 27 in Yekaterinburg) when she told him she would meet with officials to “sign documents and get her phone back.”

“She told me, 'Honey, it's over, they said I have nothing to worry about,'” Van Heerdan said. “Instead, I found out she was incarcerated. Now all I can do is worry.”

Russia has made several high-profile arrests of Americans in recent years on charges the U.S. government says are dubious. Experts say Russia's strategy is to exchange American prisoners for Russians held in the US.

In 2022, professional basketball player Brittney Griner was behind bars for 10 months before the Kremlin traded her for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer imprisoned in the United States. Griner was in Moscow to attend a tournament when officials accused her of being in possession of cannabis vaping cartridges.

Another American, Paul Whelan, has been held in Russia for five years. The United States denied Russian accusations that the former US Marine was a spy.

In March, Russia also arrested a Wall Street Journal journalist. Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges that the United States said were false. Last week, a Moscow court rejected an appeal by gershkovich.

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