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L.A. woman Ksenia Karelina goes on trial in Russia, charged with treason over small donation for Ukraine

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The treason trial for L.A.-based Russian-American aesthetician Ksenia Karelina began Thursday in Russia, a court said. The case opened about three months after she was detained on a visit back to her native country in January to see her family. She's accused of donating money to Ukraine, where Russia continues a war it launched with a full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Karelina's former mother-in-law Eleonora Srebroski said she had been given a plane ticket as a gift by her boyfriend to fly back to see her parents and younger sister in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg. She said she had donated a small amount of money to a New York-based nonprofit organization called Razom, which sends non-military assistance to Ukraine, shortly after Russia launched its invasion. Her boyfriend told news outlets she had donated about $50.

Srebroski told CBS News in February that Karelina had assured her boyfriend it was safe for her to visit Russia and he had no reason to worry about her.

Ksenia Karelina, a dual U.S.-Russian national detained on suspicion of treason, attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg
Ksenia Karelina, a dual U.S.-Russian national detained on suspicion of treason, attends a court hearing in Yekaterinburg, Russia, June 20, 2024, in a still image taken from video. Press Service of the Sverdlovsk Regional Court/Handout/REUTERS

Karelina was initially detained by Russia's Federal Security Service on charges of "petty hooliganism," but the charge was upgraded to treason. The charge she's facing carries a possible sentence of 12 years to life in prison.

Her trial is taking place behind closed doors, and acquittals for treason are rare in Russia.

Karelina appeared in a short video published by the court in Yekaterinburg, sitting in a glass cage, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans.

Srebroski, who called Karelina "a very beautiful human being" when she spoke previously with CBS News, said that as far as she knew, the recently naturalized U.S. citizen had returned to Russia to attend university-level classes on the tourism industry. She said ballet was her hobby and passion. 

"I am in shock," Srebroski said in February, adding that there was, "no justice in Russia whatsoever."

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting American citizens to use as bargaining chips to try to secure the release of Russian prisoners. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich also recently went on trial on espionage charges, and Radio Free Europe journalist Alsu Kurmasheva and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan are also currently detained in Russia.

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