Boyfriend of detained US ballerina in Russia appeals for her release: ‘She was so naive’

The boyfriend of a ballerina who has been detained by Russia on the charge of treason has called for her release, saying she was a “proud Russian”.

Ksenia Karelina, also known as Ksenia Khavana, was arrested on public disorder charges in late January outside a cinema in Yekaterinburg, before being booked for treason this month, according to Russian human rights activists.

It appears that the US-Russian citizen is confined to a Russian jail cell on charges of high treason for allegedly sending $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity.

The country’s notorious Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed in a statement this week that an unnamed woman, later identified by Russian media as Karelina, had been "proactively collecting funds" for the Ukrainian war effort.

She was a “normal American citizen that made a mistake”, Chris Van Heerden, who is a professional boxer, told BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight Programme.

"She was so naive, she doesn’t watch the news, she said, ‘Chris look, I’m Russian, I’m safe, nothing is going to happen to me’," he told the radio programme, describing her as a “proud” Russian.

Ms Karelina’s former mother-in-law Eleonara Srebroski, 56, tells The Independent that "she’s just that kind of person" who will help those who need it.

"If somebody needs help, she will be helping. Whether it’s an animal, or a child, or a grown-up, she’s the one who is always opening her heart and her wallet,” she said.

Ms Karelina was meant to return from Russia by the beginning of February, having spent the new year with her parents, grandparents, and youngest sister but was detained instead.

Mr Van Heerden said that in the last footage he saw, a woman – purportedly his girlfriend – was seen escorted by a uniformed officer, handcuffed and placed into a car. Her face was obscured by a hat. He said he was “so scared” for his girlfriend when he saw the video.

The video showed that she was being led likely into a holding cell in a courtroom.

"I broke down because I know Ksenia, she is a sweetheart, she’s so soft and I cannot imagine for the life of me how scared she must be," he told the BBC.

According to Russian media, Ms Karelina was originally accused of "petty hooliganism". Court officials said she had used "coarse, obscene language in front of other citizens, and was behaving rudely and defiantly".

The officials further claimed that she violently resisted arrest. On 29 January she was reportedly found guilty and sentenced to 14 days in jail.

Things appeared to change after she filed a complaint about her arrest with the court. The FSB now claims that she donated money to Razom, a Ukrainian aid charity based in New York City, on the day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The White House said it is aware of the reported arrest and has been trying to get more information.