Activists from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen cut down a wooden crucifix in the center of the country’s capital, Kiev, on Friday in support of members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot whose trial on hooliganism charges comes to an end today.
A video posted online showed a topless blond Femen protester wearing red shorts, with the words “Free Riot” scrawled across her chest and arms, cutting the cross with a chainsaw and then pulling it down using a rope pulled by two other activists, and then posing with her arms extended crucifix-style.
The cross was put up on a high hill near Kiev’s downtown Independence Square during the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution to commemorate the victims of political repression under Joseph Stalin.
“By this act, Femen is calling on all the healthy forces of our society to mercilessly cut out of our brains the rotten religious prejudices which dictatorships rely upon and which prevent the development of democracy and women’s freedom,” the Segodnya daily quoted the activists as saying.
Femen gained notoriety by staging dozens of topless protests both in Ukraine and abroad over the past few years.
The activists warned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia that they would “turn the blade of our chainsaw” against those “responsible for the suffering of innocent women” if the Pussy Riot members are jailed.
Three Pussy Riot participants – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 – have been charged with hooliganism aimed at “inciting religious hatred” over their protest in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 26, during which they performed a “punk prayer” calling on the Virgin Mary to “drive Putin out.”
The three women were arrested shortly after their performance. They say they were protesting against the Orthodox Church’s support for Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential elections, in which he won a third term in the Kremlin.
The verdict in the controversial trial, which has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups, is expected later on Friday. The protesters face three years in jail.
Ukrainian police have opened a criminal case on hooliganism charges against the Femen activists, punishable by up to four years in jail or up to five years of “restricted freedom” without imprisonment. None of the protesters have yet been arrested.
In December 2011, Femen activists staged a topless protest at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour screaming "God Turn Tsar Out!" The protest followed parliamentary elections in Russia on December 4, which the opposition said were mared by mass fraud in favor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
In July, a topless Femen activist attacked Patriarch Kirill during his visit to Ukraine. She ran up to the patriarch screaming "Get out" and tried to block his way as he was reportedly walking towards the press at Kiev Airport.