Femen gets naked for Putin

March 5, 2012

By Denis Sinyakov

“Young silly girls” that’s how Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov referred to Ukrainian Femen movement activists Oxana Shachko, Anna Deda and Irina Fomina. The three were sentenced to 5-12 days jail for appearing topless at an election site during the presidential vote in Russia on Sunday and imitating an attempt to steal the ballot box, which Putin had used to vote earlier in the day.

It was the first time Deda and Fomina had been in jail.

One wouldn’t be able to tell it was Fomina’s first ever protest the night before, when the women gathered to practice in a hostel room overlooking the Moscow river. I had never covered this intimate process of preparation for an act of protest before. Moreover, it was the first time I met the activists, and I barely knew their leader Anna Hutsol. That left me slightly confused.

The day before the elections, Hutsol replied to my request to come and photograph them, saying she would most likely agree. All day long, in my head I was going through pictures of Femen shot by Alessandro Bianchi in Italy, Gleb Garanich in Ukraine, photos that had won at the World Press Photo and POYi, trying to make mine different. My fears about repeating what had been shot already proved groundless, thanks to the interior of the Soviet-style apartment made into a hostel.

Hotsol called me to say the hostel only allowed guests until 23:00. The complicated thing was that the FIS Snowboard World Cup, which I was covering that day, did not end until 21:00. By 21:40, I was at the address Hutsol had sent me. A few male hostel guests lazily sat in front of a TV set in their sweat pants, clueless about what was being prepared next door.

The host, who had no idea about the organization the good-looking young women belonged to, asked them to take photos of themselves in the interiors of the hostel and write a review about it. She wanted to use them for advertisements in the future. We laughed as we found the offer funny given Femen’s growing popularity in Russia and abroad.

Deda sat at her computer preparing a press release. Fomina covered herself with a blanket and watched euronews. Hutsol came back from a local store 10 minutes later. After a brief discussion the rehearsal began.

The protest involved an imitation of stealing the ballot bin Putin was going to use, in a metaphor of votes being stolen from Russians in Putin’s favor.

Showing no intimidation whatsoever, the girls took off their shirts and Shachko, who is an artist, wrote on their chests “Kremlin rats,” “I am stealing for Putin,” “Thief.” The last word, one of the activists carried on her back, came from a Russian-English dictionary.

Fifteen minutes later, when the writing was done, they started practicing taking off their clothes. Fomina came first in every round. During the actual protest, however, Fomina lost timing to Shachko, who was the first to get to the ballot bin and who also got the longest jail term.

We had to keep the noise down, so we whispered through the rest of the rehearsal. The women even practiced their actions in case they were held by security officers. Next, they studied the location of the election site on Yandex maps.

The success of the protest depended on many factors. The site was guarded by all possible security forces, from regular police to Federal Security Service officers, who seemed to make up a quarter of all present at the site. Some three minutes before Femen appeared, about an hour after Putin left, the entrance security check was eased.

Journalists walked around, occasionally catching random shots. And that’s where it all began….

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Good story. “Femen gets naked against Putin” would be a less misleading title, no?

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