Russian-American woman goes on trial for treason after donating funds to Ukraine

  • World
  • Thursday, 20 Jun 2024

FILE PHOTO: A portrait of Ksenia Karelina (top centre) with her former in-laws and ex-husband in Maryland, U.S, December 13, 2015. Eleonora Srebroski /Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -A Russian-American woman arrested earlier this year while visiting family in Russia went on trial for alleged treason on Thursday after authorities accused her of raising money to send to the Ukrainian army.

Karelina, who was born in Russia but had built a new life as an aesthetician at a Los Angeles spa after immigrating to the United States over a decade ago, faces a sentence of 12 years to life in prison if found guilty.

Her trial will be held behind closed doors, as is customary in such cases in Russia. Treason acquittals are rare there.

The court in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg published a short video of Karelina sitting in a glass cage, wearing jeans and a green plaid shirt. She smiled faintly as reporters snapped photographs.

A notice on the website of the court posted later on Thursday said the trial had been adjourned until Aug. 7. It did not state a reason.

At least a dozen Americans are currently jailed in Russia, part of a growing list of foreign nationals who have found themselves caught up in the crisis of relations between Moscow and Washington during the Ukraine war.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Karelina in January while she was visiting her parents and young sister in Yekaterinburg.

Her former mother-in-law, Eleonora Srebroski, told Reuters in February that Karelina had travelled home around the New Year after her boyfriend surprised her with a plane ticket.

She had assured her boyfriend that Russia was "safe" and that he had no reason to fear her travelling there, according to Srebroski.

Initially arrested under a minor "petty hooliganism" statute, Karelina was later charged with treason.

Srebroski said Karelina had made a small donation to Razom for Ukraine, a New York-based nonprofit that sends non-military assistance to the country that was invaded by Russian forces in 2022 in what Moscow called a special military operation.

Karelina, who is in her early thirties, arrived in the U.S. in 2012 via a work-study program and was briefly married to Srebroski's son. Her ex-husband has described her as a fun-loving woman who didn't care much for politics.

Karelina's social media profiles feature photos of herself and friends on the beach and on trips, but without political messaging.

One photo from November 2021 shows her in a long dress, smiling and waving a small American flag, with the caption, "Citizenship".

The U.S. State Department, asked about Karelina's case, said the U.S. tries to seek access to citizens detained abroad and that consular officers seek to provide them with appropriate assistance. I

It added that Russia has long taken the position that it does not have to respond to those requests for appropriate assistance when it comes to dual nationals.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated a warning that no American citizen should travel to Russia for any reason, as they run "tremendous risk" of being detained.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; editing by Andrew Osborn, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

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