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'Forgotten' American Schoolteacher Was Jailed With Brittney Griner In Russia

While visiting Brittney Griner in a Moscow-area detention center, human rights activist Yekaterina Kalugina met an imprisoned American schoolteacher, Sarah Krivanek, who had tried to flee the country.


By Gina Tron
Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing

A Russian human rights activist is speaking out about the only other incarcerated American woman in Russia besides WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Yekaterina Kalugina visited a Moscow-area detention center in April to speak with Griner, who was sentenced on Thursday to nine years of prison for drug possession. While there, she came across an American schoolteacher, Sarah Krivanek, 46.

Kalugina told People that Krivanek was clearly distraught when she talked to her at the Correctional Colony No. 1 outside Moscow. She had been held since December for violating the terms of her bail.

"She hugged me and burst into tears," she told People. "She said, 'How have I ended up in here? It's all untrue. I'm a good person.'”

Krivanek was arrested in November 2021 after a domestic dispute with Mikhail Karavaev, her Russian romantic partner. 

The incarcerated teacher told Kalugina that her boyfriend allegedly hit her, and she in turn defended herself with a kitchen knife. She said he called the police after the knife left a "little more than a scratch” on his nose. 

Sh was charged with intention to inflict slight bodily harm and threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm.

In court, she alleged that, the day before the incident, Karavaev had beaten her, leaving her bruised and with broken fingers. Krivanek's injuries were confirmed by medical experts when she was arrested, Kalugina told People.

Karavaev withdrew his complaint, confirming his abuse of her, and Krivanek was released on bail, pending a trial.

She agreed in writing that she would not leave Moscow but, after seeking out advice at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, she was told she should flee the country immediately, her boyfriend, Karavaev, reportedly told Kalugina. The embassy disputes to People that they were aware she was out on bail and say they hadn't even been notified of her arrest by Russian authorities, noting that Americans who find themselves destitute in foreign countries can be provided financial assistance to leave.

Krivanek, who entered Russia on a short-term tourist visa in 2017 that she ultimately extended, knew her visa had expired but believed it had been automatically extended due to the pandemic.

In December, an American diplomat reportedly escorted Krivanek — with Karavaev — to Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, where she made it through passport control but was then detained for violating the terms of her bail. The school teacher had in her possession a letter showing that she received a $200 repatriation loan from the U.S. government to cover travel expenses to a religious retreat in Kansas, according to Russian Media.

"I feel so sorry for this kind, Christian woman who loved Russian culture and Russian children. The woman who had forgiven her partner and been forgiven by him. She has been imprisoned for six months now and has been forgotten," Kalugina told People. "The court didn't take into account that the so-called 'crime' was an act of self-defense while being attacked by an abusive man much bigger than her. Nor that he was only slightly hurt. It was just a scratch. Nor that he withdrew his accusation. Nor that this gentle woman who taught children was no threat to society.”

She said that Krivanek has since been convicted, lost her appeal, and is now incarcerated in a penal colony in Ryazan, 120 miles southeast of Moscow.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Griner, 31, have argued that they will appeal on Thursday, ESPN reports. Griner was arrested and charged with carrying cannabis-derived vape cartridges in February — shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine — at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport while returning to play basketball for a Russian team that employed her. She pleaded guilty on July 7.

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