The story is worthy of a spy novel. Maria Alekhina, a member of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, escaped Russia by disguising herself as a food delivery person, reports the New York Times, in an article published on Tuesday, May 10.

From a media point of view, it all begins on February 21, 2012. Balaclavas and colorful clothes, raised fists: five members of the group enter the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior to declaim, in front of the altar, a Te Deum revisited asking the Virgin Mary to oust Russian President Vladimir Putin from power.

Following this action, three of them, including Maria Alekhina, then 24 years old, were charged with “hooliganism and incitement to religious hatred” and sentenced on August 17, 2012 to two years in camp, after of a trial that had international resonance.

Despite her conviction, the young woman, who is now 33, continued her fight against the Kremlin regime. In September 2021, she was sentenced to one year of “restrictions” of freedom (judicial control, curfew, ban on leaving Moscow) for calling for a demonstration against the arrest of Russian opponent Alexei Navalny. At the end of April, Vladimir Putin tightened his repression to stifle any criticism of the war in Ukraine. The measures targeting Maria Alekhina were then replaced by a prison sentence.

So she decided to leave Russia, at least temporarily. To deceive the authorities, Maria Alekhina disguised herself as a meal delivery girl from the company Delivery Club. She also left her cell phone so as not to be traced by the police. A friend then drove her to the border with Belarus. From there, it took him a week to reach Lithuania. Her passport having been confiscated by the Russian authorities, she only had her identity card and a Lithuanian visa. By then, she had already been placed on Russia’s wanted list.

“Something Magical Happened”

During her first attempt to cross the border, Maria Alekhina was held for six hours by Belarusian border guards before being sent back. On his second try, the duty officer immediately barred him from passing. The third attempt was successful. One of his friends managed to convince the authorities of a European country – who asked not to be named – to issue him a document granting him the same status as a European Union (EU) citizen. The document was smuggled to Belarus for Maria Alekhina to benefit from.

It was from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, that she gave an interview to the New York Times to tell about her escape. “I was happy to have succeeded, because it was a big and unpredictable” goodbye kiss to the Russian authorities, quips Maria Alekhina. “I still don’t fully understand what I did,” she also told the American daily, adding, “Something magical happened last week. »

After her release in December 2013, Maria Alekhina co-founded Mediazona in September 2014, an information site specializing in the trials of human rights defenders. She also wrote her memoir, Days of Insurrection: A Pussy Riot Testifies (Threshold, 2017), and traveled the world to perform a show based on that book. In Russia, only three theaters have agreed to host his show.

Maria Alekhina had pledged to stay in Russia, despite the surveillance she was under and the pressure exerted by the authorities. The activist has finally joined the thousands of Russians who have left the country since the start of the offensive in Ukraine on February 24.

On Tuesday, her partner Lioussia Shteïn, also a member of Pussy Riot, claimed on Twitter that Maria Alekhina “did not flee Russia, she went on tour”. This will begin on May 12 in Berlin and will aim to raise funds for Ukraine, says the New York Times.

Also sentenced to restrictions of freedom in connection with the demonstrations against the arrest of Alexeï Navalny, Lioussia Chteïn left Russia in April. The New York Times states that she made her decision after finding a message on the door of their apartment accusing them of being traitors.

“Russia no longer has the right to exist”

On Twitter and Instagram, Lioussia Chteïn posted photos of herself dressed as a meal delivery girl on Tuesday. It seems that she used the same subterfuge last month as Maria Alekhina. She says she didn’t post an image sooner so as not to blow her partner’s cover; she allows herself now that the American newspaper has unveiled the trick.

In 2012, the affair of the punk prayer caused a stir in Russia and sparked an unprecedented debate on the links between the Russian Orthodox Church and power, denounced in song by Pussy Riot (“Patriarch Gundiaev [Kirill] believes in Putin/It’d be better, bitch, if he believed in God”). If part of the clergy had cried sacrilege and blasphemy, demanding that young women be punished, others, like the deacon Andrei Kuraev, had called for clemency and forgiveness, judging the punishment disproportionate to the facts. However, for the New York Times, the action of Pussy Riot was actually premonitory of the current excesses.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox since 2009, put his Church at the service of Vladimir Putin, calling him a “miracle” and supporting Ukraine’s armed aggression. For many years, the 75-year-old religious leader has not shied away from flaunting himself blessing weapons and missiles, or justifying repression of the opposition and independent media. He and the Russian president see Ukraine and Belarus as “brotherly” countries that should have remained under Moscow’s leadership. Just before launching the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin laid out in a very virulent speech his version of the story, according to which the country “was created entirely by Russia”.

These declarations and the start of the war have, explains Maria Alekhina to the New York daily, changed everything, for her as for her country. “I think Russia has no right to exist anymore,” she said. Even before, we wondered how the country remained united, by what values ​​it was united and where it is going. But now I think that is no longer a question. »

In February, Maria Alekhina was sentenced to 15 days in prison for “propaganda of Nazi symbolism” over an Instagram post from 2015 in which she criticized Belarusian autocrat and Vladimir Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko. Lioussia Shteïn was imprisoned at the same time for a similar reason. “They are afraid because they cannot control us”, analyzes Maria Alekhina.

https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2022/05/11/une-membre-des-pussy-riot-parvient-a-quitter-la-russie-deguisee-en-livreuse-de-repas_6125679_3210.html

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