Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich attend a ceremony celebrating Navy Day in Sevastopol yesterday.
A photographer and three members of the feminist movement Femen known for their bare-breasted protests were illegally held in police custody overnight after being abducted by unknown assailants during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ukraine, the group said yesterday.
Police denied the four were snatched off the streets of the Ukranian capital Kyiv in broad daylight on Saturday.
A police spokesman said they were detained when the topless women with slogans daubed on their bodies violated orders by posing for the photographer in a public place.
The Ukrainian activists are now facing charges of petty hooliganism, while the photographer is accused of defying police orders.
The four, who are facing a fine and up to 15 days in jail, were taken to a court for a closed-door hearing yesterday.
Femen said Oksana Shachko, Oleksandra Shevchenko, Yana Zhdanova and Dmitry Kostyukov were allegedly beaten up, bundled into a car and spirited away by unknown men ahead of their planned protest against Putin’s visit.
Femen calls Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who is accompanying the leader to Ukraine, the “enemies of democracy and freedom” and have heckled both in the past.
The group’s lawyer Yaroslav Yatsenko said the three activists and the photographer were taken to a police station after being snatched off the street and had to spend the night in custody.
He said Kostyukov and Shachko were beaten so badly that they were briefly hospitalised.
“Dmitry was kicked and received a head injury,” he said, referring to Kostyukov, who is a former AFP photographer and holds a Russian passport.
Yatsenko said the four had been held in custody overnight illegally.
A Femen activist who witnessed the attack from her apartment window said the activists were emerging from an apartment building when a group of five or six men charged at them. “They were wearing civilian clothes,” said Yevhenia Kraizman.
The attack followed an alleged assault earlier on Saturday on the group’s leader Anna Hutsol which she described as a warning by Ukrainian special services not to stage any protests during Putin’s two-day visit.
Putin on Saturday joined his Ukrainian host Viktor Yanukovych for politically sensitive celebrations of the 1025th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in Russia and Ukraine.
Serbian leader Tomislav Nicolic and Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti were also in attendance.
Femen’s female activists have become well-known in Ukraine and abroad for baring their breasts to protest discrimination against women and other rights violations.
The group blamed the latest attacks on the Ukrainian and Russian special services.
A spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Lada Safonova, said the service did not target Femen.
“We are not conducting any investigative work with regards to this organisation,” she told AFP, adding that the SBU was busy Saturday ensuring the safety of the leaders.
Putin and Yanukovych were yesterday in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol where they celebrated Navy Day and inspected battleships of the two countries.