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Russia arrests US dual national over alleged $51 Ukrainian charity donation

<span>Ksenia Khavana reportedly made a donation to Razom for Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the first day of the war against Ukraine.</span><span>Photograph: Twitter</span>
Ksenia Khavana reportedly made a donation to Razom for Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the first day of the war against Ukraine.Photograph: Twitter

The White House has said it is seeking information after Russia announced it had arrested a dual US-Russian citizen on treason charges, accusing her of collecting funds for Ukrainian organisations and openly opposing the Russian war in Ukraine.

A Russian legal NGO, First Dept, said the woman, named by the media in Russia as Ksenia Khavana, may stand accused of transferring $51 (£40) to a Ukrainian charity on 24 February 2022, the day Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine. She faces up to 20 years in prison.

Russia’s FSB security agency reported on Tuesday that it had detained a 33-year-old woman from Los Angeles who holds dual citizenship. Reports said she had attended the Ural Federal University in Ekaterinburg and later married an American citizen and moved to the US.

Photographs from social media showed Khavana smiling, flanked by two US flags, as she holds her naturalisation documents.

Asked about the case, the US national security spokesperson John Kirby reiterated warnings about US citizens travelling to Russia.

Meanwhile, there were a series of reports on Tuesday of a Russian crackdown on perceived threats from abroad. Russia’s state financial monitoring agency added the US senator Lindsey Graham to a database of terrorists and extremists, probably for his criticism of the war in Ukraine.

A Russian court also sentenced a former adviser to the Russian embassy in France to 18 years in prison on state treason charges, while Russia declared the US Congress-funded Radio Free Europe an “undesirable organisation”, essentially banning the broadcaster’s activities in the country.

Khavana’s arrest in January occurred shortly before Putin confirmed there were backroom talks with the US to negotiate a prisoner exchange, including the jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Dual citizens are less often considered in such trades.

The FSB saidon Tuesday: “Since February 2022, [Khavana] has been proactively collecting funds in the interests of one of the Ukrainian organisations, which were subsequently used to purchase tactical medicine items, equipment, weapons and ammunition by the armed forces of Ukraine. In addition, on the territory of the United States, this citizen has repeatedly participated in public actions in support of the Kyiv regime.”

First Dept said the NGO had information that Khavana had been charged for transferring $51.80 to the Ukrainian charitable fund Razom for Ukraine, which helps fund medical equipment for first responders and other humanitarian causes.

The transfer was made on 24 February 2022, according to First Dept, the day Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine.

Dora Chomiak, the chief executive of Razom for Ukraine, said: “Razom is appalled by reports that a US-Russian dual national has been arrested by Russian authorities for purportedly making a charitable donation to Razom for Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Razom calls on the US government to continue to do everything in its power to demand that President Putin release all those unjustly detained by Russia and to hold Russia’s political and military leadership accountable for their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

Noting that the charity was US-founded and US-based, Chomiak said Razom was “committed to supporting a prosperous, secure and democratic future for Ukraine” and had received donations from hundreds of thousands of people.

“Our activities, which are in keeping with our charitable purpose and our legal obligations as an American charitable organisation, are focused on humanitarian aid, disaster relief, education and advocacy,” she said.

Russia is already holding several US citizens in prison, including Gershkovich, who was arrested last March on espionage charges while on a reporting trip in Ekaterinburg.

Gershkovich, who has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison for nearly a year, appeared in court on Tuesday, where a judge extended his pretrial custody for another two months.

Paul Whelan, a former marine who was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges in Moscow is also still in prison, where he says he has felt “abandoned” by the US; and Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist was detained in her native Tatarstan in October on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, as well as publishing “fake news” about the Russian military.

Both Russia and the US have said there are backroom talks about a potential prisoner exchange, but do not appear to have struck a deal yet. Putin compared Gershkovich to Vadim Krasikov, an FSB hitman jailedby a German court for the assassination of Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin, when asked about the case by the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson in an interview. After the interview, the Russian president mocked Carlson for a “lack of sharp questions”.