Maria Alyokhina, the founding member of the Russian punk band “Pussy Riot,” had reportedly escaped the grip of Russia using a food courier disguise to evade detection from the Moscow Police. Alyokhina has been under heat from the Russian police due to her anti-war stance.

According to her interview with The New York Times,  Alyokhina was about to be arrested and detained for 21 days in a penal colony. The Russian Government continues to repress protesters and critics of the war in Ukraine.

Alyokhina, who is known to be a popular protester and critic of Putin’s government and his policies, first gained international attention when Pussy Riot carried out a demonstration in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012. She would be on the Russian government and the FSB‘s lookout list from then on after being sentenced to 2 years in prison for “hooliganism.” Despite this charge, she continued to be a vocal critic of the regime and Putin himself – each time getting arrested for standing up to the government as she was also an activist. She got jailed six times before she had enough and decided to flee the country.

The 33-year-old then hatched a plan to escape from the country without being detected. She and her girlfriend, Ms. Lucy Shtein, obtained food courier uniforms and bags. They used these disguises to escape her house arrest leaving her cell phone behind to avoid being tracked. Moscow Police were hot on her tail as there were reports that the police had been actively tracking her to her friend’s apartment. There, she would stay for an undisclosed amount of time before securing documents to travel to Belarus and then to Lithuania. Her friend from Iceland helped her secure travel documents.

However, the journey was not easy. When she got to the Belarus-Lithuania border, she learned that she had been placed by Russia on a wanted list, thereby risking capture by the Russian authorities as it is no secret that Belarus is Russia’s most staunch ally at the moment. We’re not exactly sure of the details; however, the New York Times reported that she held a Lithuanian visa with a Russian domestic passport, which would have revealed her true identity to the Belarusian border guards.

As a result, she was held by the Belarusian guards for over 6 hours. She was eventually released and sent back without being held for the FSB. However, after a third try, she was able to make it through with the help of her foreign allies. One such ally is Ragnar Kjartansson, an Icelandic performance artist who was the person who helped her with the travel documents that would identify her as a citizen of an unnamed country of the European Union. These documents were smuggled into Belarus. On her third attempt and now carrying documents that said she was an EU citizen, she was passed through by the Belarusian border without being detained.

She recounts her whole escape as something straight out of a spy novel. “I was happy that I made it because it was an unpredictable and big” kiss-off to the Russian authorities,” she said. “I still don’t understand completely what I’ve done.”

What is Pussy Riot?

Pussy Riot is a famous band in Russia that does not just focus on playing punk rock music but is also a feminist protest and performance art group. Its origins can be traced to 2011, when they would play “guerilla gigs” in unusual public places with all of their 11 members. It is no secret that the band is extremely against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia being Russia, the public there did not appreciate the type of ideas and music they had been putting out. Several of the members have been frequently arrested for their political views. They were arrested following the aforementioned performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, three of the members being arrested.

Russian punk band, Pussy Riot (Denis Bochkarev, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pussy_Riot_-_Denis_Bochkarev_4.jpg
Russian punk band Pussy Riot (Denis BochkarevCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This case was taken by human rights groups, which led to the eventual amnesty of the Russian government. Alyokhina would leave the band in 2014 with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova but would play in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There, they would be attacked by Cossacks with whips and would get pepper-sprayed in the face.

For Americans, people would be familiar with the Russian band as they released the song “Make America Great Again” two weeks before the 2016 Presidential Elections, where they would depict the US being led by President Trump as somewhat dystopian – much to the irritation and anger of the Republican citizens of the United States.

However, despite this, she has raised criticism about her government being as repressive as it is.

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“I don’t think Russia has a right to exist anymore,” she stated. “Even before, there were questions about how it is united, by what values it is united, and where it is going. But now I don’t think that is a question anymore.”

Alyokhina would put up Mediazona in 2014 due to her activism with Tolokonnikova, an independent media outlet that focuses on Russian judicial news, law enforcement, and the penal system.

“Since our release from prison six months ago, we’ve felt that Russian media are no longer able to cover what is going on,” she said in 2014 during the founding of her news site.

“Because of the heavy censorship by authorities, there is no space for anything in the media that criticizes Putin’s policies and tracks human rights abuses by Russian courts and law enforcement. Courts, prisons, arrests, convictions, riots in facilities, political criminal cases, crimes by law enforcement officials — our new media outlet will try to cover it all.”

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