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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - A decade ago, Pennsylvania native Jennifer Gaspar moved to Russia and made it her home. But amid worsening anti-American fervor and a crackdown on democracy advocates, the 43-year-old mom is now being kicked out of the country she has come to love.
“Russia is not a bad place - very bad things [are] happening,” Gaspar told NBC News as she sat amid packed moving boxes in her St. Petersburg home. “Our family here are Russian, our friends here are Russian. Those are only good things.”
Russian authorities revoked Gaspar's residency permit last month. A letter dated July 21 accused her of acting or intending to act unconstitutionally and being a threat to national security.
Numerous appeals have proved fruitless so she, her husband Ivan Pavlov, 43, and five-year-old daughter are flying out of Russia this week. They asked NBC News not disclose their destination or their child's name.
Gaspar said she does not think her career brought about this decision from Russia’s authorities. Her most recent job was on a cultural exchange between the U.K. and the world-famous Hermitage Museum. She believe her husband, a human-rights lawyer and freedom of information advocate, was the real target.
“This time it’s not Mommy and Daddy arguing – it’s Mommy and Daddy’s countries ... Daddy’s country is saying that since Mommy is from the country that they are arguing with, that she should leave”
Pavlov, who has defended clients who are up against Russia's security services, agrees that he is probably part of the reason she is being expelled. But it is also key that she is an American.
“It’s an easy solution to complex problems,” Pavlov said about the government's move. "They do not need to explain anything."
Russian officials declined to comment on the case.
Gaspar and Pavlov’s woes come as relations between the United States and Russia hit lows not seen since the Cold War.
“Ivan and I both began to feel quite nervous when Russia decided to annex Crimea, and we realized that things would start to change very quickly with respect to the relationship between the United States and Russia,” she said.
The conflict in Ukraine has been fueling the Kremlin’s accusations that America was behind the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych in February, and was now backing the new government of Petro Poroshenko.
Russia had already introduced a number of anti-Western laws before the conflict in Ukraine exploded. In late 2012, the government passed a law making it compulsory for nongovernmental organizations that received foreign funding to register as so-called "foreign agents."
Many nonprofit and humanitarian organizations faced pressure or left Russia altogether as a result, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and elections monitoring group Golos. Russia has also banned Americans from adopting Russian children.
In the wake of stepped-up Western sanctions that came after pro-Moscow rebels shot down of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine, Russia banned food imports of dairy, fruit and vegetables, pork, fish and other meat from the U.S., European Union, the Netherlands and Australia.
At home, Gaspar tries to explain the family’s fate in terms a five-year-old would understand.
Remember how Mommy and Daddy sometimes have arguments, she asks her little girl.
“This time it’s not Mommy and Daddy arguing – it’s Mommy and Daddy’s countries,” she said. “Daddy’s country is saying that since Mommy is from the country that they are arguing with, that she should leave.”
Despite being shocked by the possibility she will not be able to return to Russia in the foreseeable future, Gaspar speaks with fondness for the country she is being forced to leave.
“There will come a time when the reality will hit me," she said. "This is my home, it has been my home, I have wonderful friends here."