Russian court hears treason case against US-Russian citizen

The trial of a US-Russian dual citizen, accused of committing treason by fundraising for Ukraine’s military, has begun in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Ksenia Karelina, 33, was detained in Yekaterinburg earlier this year while visiting her grandparents. She is accused of donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the US, according to her employer – a spa in Beverly Hills, California.

Her trial began Thursday morning in Sverdlovsk regional court behind closed doors. The next hearing in her trial will be held on August 7, Russian state news agency TASS reported later Thursday. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

Karelina, a Los Angeles resident and amateur ballerina who became a US citizen in 2021, entered Russia in January but the US did not learn of her arrest until February 8.

Chris Van Deerden, Karelina’s boyfriend, told CNN he had bought her tickets to visit the country as a birthday gift. He said she was “proud to be Russian, and she doesn’t watch the news. She doesn’t intervene with anything about the war.”

“I believe America will bring her back to me,” Van Heerden said.

Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg, June 20, 2024. - Sverdlovsk Regional Court/Reuters
Karelina attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg, June 20, 2024. - Sverdlovsk Regional Court/Reuters

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has accused Karelina of taking part in “public actions to support the Kyiv regime.” The organization to which Karelina reportedly gave money, the New York-based non-profit Razom for Ukraine, has said it was “appalled” by her detention.

Karelina is among several American citizens being held in Russian prisons, including journalists and former soldiers.

Russian prosecutors confirmed this week that The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War, will stand trial on June 26.

His trial will also be held behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg, where he was arrested more than a year ago. Both Gershkovich and Karelina’s cases will be considered by Judge Andrei Mineev, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Discussing Karelina’s case, the Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov told CNN the FSB aims “to build up a bank of hostages with American passports,” which Moscow can use “as leverage” in any negotiations with Washington.

CNN’s Katharine Krebs and Radina Gigova contributed reporting.

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