Pussy Riot’s Alyokhina urges West to confront ‘abuser’ Putin with strength By Reuters



© Reuters. Pussy Riot singer Maria Alyokhina poses for a portrait before performing on stage with her band at The Junction in Cambridge, Britain November 2, 2022. REUTERS/Chris Radburn

By Mark Trevelyan

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) – She spent nearly two years in a Russian penal colony for protesting against President Vladimir Putin, but it took almost another decade – and the invasion of Ukraine – before Maria Alyokhina reluctantly decided it was time to leave her country.

Alyokhina is a member of the feminist art collective Pussy Riot which outraged Russian authorities in 2012 by donning vivid-coloured balaclavas and belting out an anti-Putin “punk prayer” in front of the gold-framed icons of a Moscow cathedral.

This spring, after a series of short prison spells and a period of house arrest following a tweet in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, she slipped out of a Moscow apartment disguised as a food delivery courier and managed to flee the country via Belarus.

She now spends most of her time touring with Pussy Riot in a show she describes as a “call for action” in support of Ukraine.

“We are Russians, we did not choose where to be born, but we have a right to choose how we will live and what issues we will stand for,” Alyokhina, 34, said in an interview before a performance in the English university city of Cambridge.

“We believe Ukraine should win this war. And this is not only an issue of Ukraine, this is something which is the most important for the whole of Europe because it’s a European tragedy.”

Alyokhina describes Putin and his entourage as men who only understand the language of force, saying Russia’s patriarchal system is at the heart of the problem. “This war was started by a man and all Putin’s circle are men. We as a country didn’t have any women political leaders for a century.”

DEALING WITH ‘ABUSERS’

She is impatient with those in the West who prefer to tread softly with Putin for fear of how he might escalate the conflict. She compares such as stance to telling victims of domestic violence that they should not “provoke” their abusers.

“Nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war of course exist, but this is not a reason to not provide a defence to Ukraine, because if Ukraine loses this war there will be more countries attacked. Also probably with nuclear weapons.

“So just do not give anything to abusers. There should be just a breakup of any dialogue and connection with them,” said Alyokhina, speaking in English.

She is critical of the West for not responding more strongly in 2014, when Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed armed separatists in its eastern Donbas region. “That’s why they decided to continue. That’s why this war started.”

With pounding electronic music and discordant vocals, the “Riot Days” show tells the story of the cathedral protest, the activists’ trial and conviction for “hooliganism” and the struggles and humiliations of life in Russian penal colonies from which Alyokhina and fellow group member Nadya Tolokonnikova were freed under amnesty in late 2013.

Its climax is a cry of pain over the war in Ukraine. Framed against a screen showing a captured Russian soldier, the band sing: “Mama, I’m held in captivity… Mama, there are no Nazis here. Mama, why is the war called a ‘special operation’?”

Alyokhina says Russia is guilty of war crimes – a term that has also been used by Ukraine, the White House and the European Union – and at some point it must face a reckoning, like the Nuremberg trials of leading Nazis. Moscow denies targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

“Russia should go through the same way as Germany went after the Second World War,” she said. “I cannot see it without a tribunal and without all the witnesses speaking out for a long time against the war criminals. I want to be in this tribunal.”



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