US ballerina was detained in Russia while visiting 90-year-old grandmother, says boyfriend

By John Mercury February 24, 2024

A ballerina with US-Russian citizenship was visiting her elderly grandmother when she was detained by Russian authorities on suspicion of treason, her boyfriend says.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Tuesday that a 33-year-old US-Russian dual nationality citizen was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg for allegedly financially supporting Ukraine’s army.

The FSB didn’t name the individual, but a senior US official confirmed to Sky News partner NBC News that it was Ksenia Karelina, an amateur ballerina and aesthetician.

Ms Karelina’s boyfriend, Chris Van Heerden, said she went to Russia on 2 January to see her 90-year-old grandmother and her other family members and intended to return to Los Angeles two weeks later.

Ms Karelina didn’t appear to have any concerns ahead of her trip, Mr Van Heerden told NBC Los Angeles.

Kseniya Karelina, a Russian-American ballerina being held by Russia. Pic: InnaVernikov/X
Ksenia Karelina, a Russian-American ballerina being held by Russia. Pic: InnaVernikov/X

“She was like, ‘I’m going to be fine, it’s good. I’m Russian, I’m good’,” he said. “This is also eating away at me a little bit because I bought that plane ticket.”

He said Ms Karelina was detained at the airport upon her arrival. She was eventually released but authorities kept her cell phone, he added.

They used her mother’s phone to communicate in the following weeks, he said, but the last time they spoke was on 27 January, when she told him she was going to pick up her phone from authorities.

US officials became aware that she had been arrested on 8 February.

The FSB says she has been detained as a “preventative measure” while it continues its investigation.

What we know about Ms Kalerina

She became a US citizen in 2021 after marrying an American, who she later divorced, according to Associated Press.

Ms Kalerina has worked at Ciel Spa at the SLS Beverly Hills hotel for eight years and is also an amateur ballet dancer. She left Russia to study at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, later relocating to Los Angeles.

What she’s accused of

The FSB alleged that since February 2022, Karelina had “proactively collected funds in the interests of one of the Ukrainian organisations, which were subsequently used to purchase tactical medicine, equipment, weapons and ammunition by the Ukrainian Armed Forces”.

It did not provide further details or evidence of her alleged crime. A criminal case has been launched against her, the FSB said, and she is facing charges of treason, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Isabella Koretz, owner of Ciel Spa, where Ms Karelina works, believes she has been detained for collecting funds for humanitarian aid and donating to Razom for Ukraine, a US-based non-profit that provides medical kits and disaster relief to those affected by Russia’s invasion of the country.

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“We’re talking about diapers and formula, that’s what she was collecting money for,” Ms Koretz said. “We’re not talking about money for weapons.”

A US state department spokesperson said it was seeking assistance in Ms Karelina’s case, but that gaining access to dual nationals in Russia can be complicated because Moscow considers them to be Russian citizens “first and foremost”.

‘Bring her back, she’s just a normal person’

“We spent the last six months like basically living together,” Mr Van Heerden said. “She’s just so sweet, everyone loves her. She’s funny, she’s happy, she’s full of life.”

“Bring her back, she’s just a normal person,” he added.

“This girl is like an angel,” Ms Koretz said. “You have to understand that she wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Her employer added Ms Karelina has been communicating with her colleagues at the spa through letters and has asked them to help her sell her belongings in LA, including her car, as she “doesn’t want to leave anybody with her debts”.


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