Brazenly provocative, the bare-breasted young women of Femen are becoming an eye-catching — if unsolicited — fixture on Ukraine’s political scene.
Established in 2008 by a group of Kiev university students, Femen says its main aims are to improve the role of women in Ukraine’s male-dominated, post-Soviet society.
“We want to show that our women have a demeaning role in our society. Their place is seen as in the kitchen or in bed,” said Alexandra Shevchenko, a 22-year-old economics student who regularly plays a leading role in topless protests.
Sex tourists and visiting foreign businessmen who feed Ukraine’s sex industry are the group’s main targets.
It has also campaigned against sexual harassment of students in universities and railed against international beauty contests such as the Miss Universe competition.
Even Mykola Azarov — the country’s dour, grey-haired prime minister — found himself an unlikely target of Femen when he drew fire by naming an all-male government.
But this is no classic women’s movement.
Last week two semi-clad Femen members disrupted an Iranian exhibition with a protest in support of an Iranian woman held in jail for adultery and complicity of murder.
The Ukrainian authorities, who once laughed off Femen’s activities as cheeky but harmless antics, may now be losing patience after the anti-Putin demonstration which touched a raw nerve in sensitive ties with a powerful neighbor.
“The police are becoming more aggressive now. But at least that shows we are being taken seriously,” Hutsol told Reuters in an interview in a downtown Kiev cafe.