Pussy Riot embarks on Ukraine tour after fleeing Moscow

Pussy Riot embarks on Ukraine tour after fleeing Moscow

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

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

It came after Russian authorities announced she was serving a 21-day sentence in a penal colony. Alekhina has been arrested six times in the past year for her political activism, with Putin escalating his already stifling crackdown on political dissent since his invasion of Ukraine.

More than 4,500 anti-war protesters were arrested in a single day in March, according to a rights group. Meanwhile, even calling the war a war can be punished with imprisonment.

“We want to tell the truth,” said Alyokhina. “The Russians who are aware of this are already doing everything they can and are being locked up.”

Known for their provocative guerrilla performances, Pussy Riot rose to fame in February 2012 when they performed a “punk prayer” critical of Putin at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Alyokhina and another member of the collective were sentenced to two years in prison.

Her new “anti-war” show, which combines music, theater and video screenings, also includes the names of imprisoned and prosecuted Russian dissidents.

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

Alyokhina told The New York Times about those adventures earlier this week, describing how she donned a grocery delivery uniform to fool cops who were monitoring the apartment where she was staying, leaving her cellphone behind to avoid being followed. She then took a detour via Belarus and Lithuania out of the country.

Her friend Lucy Shtein revealed a similar escape. “An easy way to get past cops in your driveway,” she posted on Instagram, alongside a photo of herself in a green grocery delivery outfit.

Thousands of liberal Russians have fled Putin’s military oppression.

Olga Borisova, another member of the collective who performed on Thursday, said she left the country when the war started. Diana Burkot said she packed her bags two months ago, but all members of the group wanted to go back.

When asked what message the group wanted to convey to Putin at their concert, Burkot replied that they didn’t want to give him any message at all. From their point of view, an argument with him is no longer possible.

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

Addressing the West, the performers stressed that it was dangerous to remain silent about the actions of the Russian leader. “Evil is indifference,” said Aloykhina.

Borisova said she believed that after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, no one would speak to Putin again. Especially since it was against international law and “super brutal”.

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

“It has become so absurd,” Aloykhina said of the Russian government’s efforts to present its invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation” and prevent citizens from understanding it as a war. She noted that someone who buys ads on Instagram could theoretically face up to five years in prison for “supporting extremists.”

Russia blocked Instagram and Facebook in March after Facebook temporarily suspended its rules on hate speech and allowed posts calling for Putin’s death. A court then banned the parent company Meta as an extremist organization.

Speaking to reporters before the concert, Alekhina was reluctant to go into details about how she evaded Russian authorities to leave the country.

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

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