A young woman with dual Russian and American citizenship is being detained in Russia, accused of treason. Experts say the woman, a ballerina with Maryland ties, is being used by Russia for leverage.

Ksenia Karelina, a 33-year-old aesthetician and dancer, faces up to 20 years in a Russian prison.

The alleged crime? Donating a little over $50 to an American charity that supports Ukraine, according to her employer in California.

They, and her boyfriend, say she went to Russia to visit her 90-year-old grandmother.

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“She was more worried about not being around her grandparents, and they are very old,” said Karelina’s boyfriend Chris Van Heerden.

Karelina’s ex-in-laws live in Maryland.

“I was asking myself, why did she go? Why did she go?” Eleonora Srebroski, Karelina’s former mother-in-law, said.

Srebroski says she fears for Karelina’s safety.

“I’m worried about her physical well-being because she’s a teeny tiny gentle lady,” Srebroski said.

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Russian state TV aired a video this week of the woman believed to be Karelina handcuffed and with her eyes covered.

Russian authorities accuse her of “proactively collecting funds ... which were used to purchase tactical medical items, equipment, means of destruction and ammunition for the Ukrainian armed forces.”

U.S. officials are warning Americans in Russia to get out and stay out after her arrest. Experts say her case is not Russia’s focus.

“If you are considering travel to Russia for any reason, do not do it,” said Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the State Department.

Former U.S. hostage negotiator Daniel O’Shea said, “Americans are being viewed as bargaining chips.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested trading American journalist Evan Gershkovich for a Russian hit man serving a life sentence in Germany.

Friends say Karelina moved to the U.S. to become a ballerina. She became an American citizen in 2021, most recently living in Los Angeles.

A social media profile lists Karelina having attended University of Maryland Baltimore. School officials, though, say they have no record of her being a student there. She is due in court later this month.

WJZ is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.

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