Pussy Riot begins tour for Ukraine after escape from Moscow

Pussy Riot begins tour for Ukraine after escape from Moscow
ADVERTISEMENT
Placeholder while article actions load

BERLIN — Russian feminist arts collective and punk rock band Pussy Riot took to the stage with an antiwar message Thursday, performing for the first time in three years after their lead singer escaped Russia by disguising herself as a food courier to evade police.

Speaking in Berlin at the start of a planned 19-show European tour to raise money for victims of the war in Ukraine, Maria Alyokhina, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, described her decision to leave Russia as “spontaneous.”

It came after Russian authorities announced she would have to serve a 21-day sentence in a penal colony. Alyokhina has been arrested six times over the past year on charges related to her political activism, with Putin expanding an already stifling crackdown on political dissent since his invasion of Ukraine.

More than 4,500 antiwar protesters were arrested during a single day in March, according to one rights group. Meanwhile, even describing the war as a war can be punishable with jail time.

“We want to speak the truth,” Alyokhina said. “Those Russians who are aware are already doing all they can and are being imprisoned.”

Known for its provocative guerrilla performances, Pussy Riot gained notoriety in February 2012, with the performance of a “punk prayer” critical of Putin at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Alyokhina and another member of the collective were handed two-year prison sentences.

Their new “antiwar” show, which combines music, theater and video displays, also incorporates the names of imprisoned and persecuted Russian dissidents.

To enable the tour, Alyokhina “went through various adventures,” the collective said on Instagram.

Alyokhina recounted those adventures to the New York Times earlier this week, describing how she donned a food delivery uniform to fool police officers monitoring the apartment where she was staying and left her cellphone behind to avoid being tracked. She then took a circuit route out of the country via Belarus and Lithuania.

Her girlfriend, Lucy Shtein, revealed a similar escape. “Easy way to get past cops in your driveway,” she posted on Instagramalongside a photograph of herself in a green food delivery outfit.

Thousands of liberal Russians have fled Putin’s wartime crackdown.

Olga Borisova, another member of the collective performing Thursday, said she’d left the country when the war started. Diana Burkot said she’d packed her bags two months ago, but that all members of the group wanted to return.

When asked what message the group wanted to send Putin at their concert, Burkot said they didn’t want to send him a message at all. In their view, engaging with him is no longer possible.

Borisova said they hope he will be tried as a war criminal.

Addressing the West, all three performers emphasized that it was dangerous to be silent in the face of the Russian leader’s actions. “Evil is being indifferent,” Aloykhina said.

Borisova said she thought that after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, no one would speak to Putin anymore. Especially since it was a violation of international law and “super brutal.”

Instead, they were shocked at how limited the international reaction was in 2014 and how quickly everyone returned to normal. “Of course, if he sees that he can do that and there is no reaction, why not just go further and annex more and more territories, to start a war?” Borisova said.

“It’s become so absurd,” said Aloykhina of the Russian government’s effort to promote its invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation” and prevent citizens from understanding it as a war. She noted that someone buying advertisements on Instagram could in theory end up in jail for up to five years for “sponsoring the extremists.”

Russia blocked Instagram and Facebook in March after Facebook temporarily suspended its hate speech rules and allowed posts that called for Putin’s death. Subsequently, a court banned parent company Meta as an extremist organization.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the concert, Alyokhina was reluctant to dwell on details of how she evaded Russian authorities to leave the country.

“I think the focus should be on Ukraine now and not on me,” she said, calling for countries to stop selling Russia arms and buying its oil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

ADVERTISEMENT