After escape from Moscow, Pussy Riot begins tour to support Ukraine

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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 was arrested six times in the last year for political activism. Putin has increased his already oppressive crackdown against political dissidents since his invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

More than 4,500 antiwar protesters were arrested during a single day in March, according to one rights group. Even referring to the war as such can lead to jail sentence.

“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 was sentenced to two years in prison along with another member.

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. Then she took an unusual route through Belarus and Lithuania to escape the country.

Her girlfriend, Lucy Shtein, revealed a similar escape. “Easy way to get past cops in your driveway,” she posted on Instagram, alongside 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 stated that she had left the country two months prior to her departure, however all other members of the collective wanted to come back.

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. According to them, it is impossible for him to engage with.

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

Addressing the West, the performers emphasized that it was dangerous to be silent in the face of the Russian leader’s actions. Aloykhina stated, “Evil is not being indifferent.”

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. Borisova stated, “Ofcourse, if that’s possible and there’s no response, why not go further? To start a war?

“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. A court declared Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook as an extremist group.

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.

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