“I wish I could be in Kyiv’s Independence Square, not Times Square,” Inna Shevchenko said. It was below 20 degrees when the FEMEN ringleader arrived at the latter on Thursday morning, accompanied by a member of the group’s Canada chapter and three local performance artists — all with “FUCK PUTIN” painted across their bare breasts. A native Ukrainian, 23-year-old Shevchenko has been in exile since 2012, when now-deposed President Viktor Yanukovych ordered severe punishment for her destruction of a giant wooden cross in central Kyiv — an act committed in solidarity with Russia’s Pussy Riot. She fled to France and eventually received political asylum.
But yesterday, it was “the glory of Ukraine” she shouted about as she tore the Russian flag in half for a small audience of journalists and tourists, plus a handful of construction workers straight from central casting. (“Fucking lunatics, it’s fucking freezing out here.”) Shevchenko told reporters she was protesting Russia’s occupation of Crimea and demanding tougher sanctions than the visa restrictions U.S. officials imposed yesterday. (“Do you think this can stop such a guy as Putin?”) A Times Square public-safety officer monitored the situation, narrating into her cell phone.
Later — and warmer — at a Starbucks a few blocks west, Shevchenko explained that the morning’s demonstration was not one of the topless feminist activists’ signature “sextremist acts.” A sextremist act is something like what happened in Crimea the same day: Several FEMEN members interrupted a pro-Russia demonstration and were promptly beaten, teargassed, detained, and sent back to France. Times Square was merely a “symbolic act.” “It’s very good practice for the women who want to be in FEMEN,” she said.