Maria was born in Siberia a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall and spent her childhood navigating the sometimes rocky transition from communism to capitalism. Political rights were initially more plentiful than food as the Russian Federation rose from the ashes of the Soviet Union. Butina distinguished herself early, being named one of the top 100 Russian Federation high school students who in 2007 participated in a joint U.S. / Russian Federation diplomatic legislative seminar entitled “Project Harmony.”