Photographers' Blog

Femen gets naked for Putin

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.

The femen phenomenon

By Gleb Garanich

I have been shooting Femen protests for five years and the girls have become a real Ukrainian brand now, like Chernobyl, the Klitschko brothers, footballer Andriy Shevchenko and Chicken Kiev. Colleagues in the office were always jealous when we left to cover the protests and many of my acquaintances from abroad were willing to go and watch them. Before taking pictures of the girls’ regular lives outside the protests, I asked myself: what do I know about them? I only knew their names. The public has two ideas of them, “funny girls” or “damn prostitutes, I wonder who’s paying them”. I personally do not care if their actions are moral or immoral, wrong or right. They do not kill or steal or promise to make voters’ lives better. Shooting their protests is much more interesting than, say, covering a briefing by the prime minister. These girls at least appear honest. Who pays for that is a question for the Financial Times, not me.


REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

I chose the three most prominent Femen activists, Oleksandra Shevchenko, Inna Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko, and decided to spend a few hours with each one on a regular day. Two problems I faced were a queue of foreign reporters waiting to meet them and the flu, which brought the girls down. But once they recovered, I paid them a visit.

I spent the morning with Inna Shevchenko.

Inna, 21, was born in the city of Kherson and studies journalism in Kiev. She had worked for the press office of the Kiev mayor’s office, but was sacked for taking part in Femen protests. Inna likes to hike in the mountains and read Chekhov. She rents a room in a downtown Kiev apartment.