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How Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot Escaped From Russia

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Maria V. Alyokhina first got here to the eye of the Russian authorities — and the world — when her punk band and efficiency artwork group Pussy Riot staged a protest in opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral.

For that act of riot in 2012, she was sentenced to 2 years in jail for “hooliganism.” She remained decided to battle Mr. Putin’s system of repression, even after being jailed six extra occasions since final summer time, every stint for 15 days, at all times on trumped-up expenses aimed toward stifling her political activism.

However in April, as Mr. Putin cracked down tougher to snuff out any criticism of his struggle in Ukraine, the authorities introduced that her efficient home arrest could be transformed to 21 days in a penal colony. She determined it was time to go away Russia — a minimum of quickly — and disguised herself as a meals courier to evade the Moscow police who had been staking out the pal’s condominium the place she was staying. She left her cellphone behind as a decoy and to keep away from being tracked.

A pal drove her to the border with Belarus, and it took her every week to cross into Lithuania. In a studio condominium in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, she agreed to an interview to explain a dissident’s harrowing escape from Mr. Putin’s Russia.

“I used to be glad that I made it, as a result of it was an unpredictable and massive” kiss-off to the Russian authorities, Ms. Alyokhina mentioned, utilizing a much less well mannered time period. “I nonetheless don’t perceive utterly what I’ve finished,” she admitted, wearing black apart from a fanny pack with a rainbow belt.

Ms. Alyokhina, 33, has spent her whole grownup life preventing for her nation to respect its personal Structure and probably the most fundamental human rights, like freedom of expression. After being freed early from jail in December 2013, she and one other member of Pussy Riot based Mediazona, an impartial information outlet targeted on crime and punishment in Russia.

She additionally wrote a memoir, “Riot Days,” and traveled internationally performing a present primarily based on the ebook. Although her dream was to tour with it in Russia, solely three venues agreed to host the present, and all confronted repercussions.

Ms. Alyokhina was dedicated to remaining in Russia regardless of common surveillance and stress from the authorities. However now she has joined the tens of 1000’s of Russians who’ve fled because the invasion of Ukraine.

Ms. Alyokhina, whose buddies name her Masha, had bitten her nails all the way down to stubs, and he or she puffed nearly unceasingly on a vape or on Marlboro Lights. She made the journey in black, three-inch platform boots with out laces — a nod to her many stints in jail, the place shoelaces are confiscated.

In jail, she and others as an alternative threaded moist towelettes by way of the eyelets of their sneakers to maintain them on. As a press release, she and different members of Pussy Riot will put on them whereas they carry out throughout a tour, beginning on Could 12 in Berlin, to lift cash for Ukraine.

When it first started greater than a decade in the past, Pussy Riot appeared as a lot publicity stunt as political activism. But when their protest in the Moscow cathedral — the place they sang a “Punk Prayer” ridiculing the symbiosis that had developed between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin — appeared overwrought on the time, as we speak it seems prescient.

The church’s chief, Patriarch Kirill, not too long ago blessed Russian troops going to Ukraine, and the European Union put his title on its sanctions listing.

Precisely 10 years to the day after the cathedral protest, Mr. Putin delivered a ranting speech through which he known as Ukraine a rustic “created by Russia,” laying the groundwork for his invasion.

Ms. Alyokhina listened to the speech on the radio from a jail cell. The invasion, she mentioned, had modified every part, not only for her, however for her nation.

“I don’t assume Russia has a proper to exist anymore,” she mentioned. “Even earlier than, there have been questions on how it’s united, by what values it’s united, and the place it’s going. However now I don’t assume that could be a query anymore.”

Throughout the interview she was surrounded by different members of the group, now a collective with a few dozen members. Most of them had additionally not too long ago fled Russia, together with her girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

Ms. Shtein had chosen to go away Russia a month earlier than, additionally evading restrictions on her motion by sneaking out in a delivery-service uniform. Her choice got here after somebody posted an indication on the door of the condominium she shared with Ms. Alyokhina accusing them of being traitors.

Ms. Alyokhina and Ms. Shtein had been as soon as imprisoned for Instagram posts calling for the discharge of political prisoners in Russia. In February, Ms. Alyokhina was sentenced to fifteen days for “propaganda of Nazi symbolism” over one other Instagram submit, this one from 2015, that criticized Mr. Putin’s ally, the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. Ms. Shtein was detained on the similar time on comparable expenses.

“They’re scared as a result of they can not management us,” Ms. Alyokhina mentioned.

By the point she arrived at Belarus’s border with Lithuania, she had a Lithuanian visa that she tried to make use of along with her Russian home I.D., as Russia had confiscated her passport. By then she had been positioned on Russia’s “needed” listing.

In her first try to cross, Ms. Alyokhina was held by Belarusian border guards for six hours earlier than being despatched again. On her second strive, the incredulous officer on obligation simply despatched her away.

However on the third strive, she received by way of. Ms. Alyokhina had allies exterior the nation working to search out her a path to freedom. One was the Icelandic efficiency artist Ragnar Kjartansson, a pal who satisfied a European nation to challenge Ms. Alyokhina a journey doc that primarily gave her the identical standing as an E.U. citizen. The nation’s officers requested that it not be named for worry of diplomatic repercussions.

The doc was smuggled into Belarus for Ms. Alyokhina to make use of. Whereas there, she averted accommodations or anyplace she would want to point out proof of id, which may tip off the individuals trying to find her.

Ms. Alyokhina ultimately boarded a bus to Lithuania with the doc in hand. She laughed when she described how a lot better she was handled by the border guards once they considered her as a “European,” reasonably than Russian.

“Numerous magic occurred final week,” she mentioned. “It feels like a spy novel.”

The truth that she was capable of get out of Russia and Belarus was a mirrored image, she mentioned, of chaotic Russian regulation enforcement.

“From right here it seems to be like an enormous demon, however it is rather disorganized in the event you look from the within,” she mentioned. “The suitable hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Ms. Alyokhina says she hopes to return to Russia. However nobody has any thought how that might occur, when even probably the most devoted activists are imprisoned or compelled into exile.

Day-after-day in Vilnius, new members of the group had been arriving, fleeing Russia and becoming a member of for rehearsals for the European tour.

After a couple of days, Ms. Alyokhina traveled to Iceland with another group members to go to Mr. Kjartansson, who organized for them to rehearse within the constructing that after housed the nation’s Excessive Court docket.

Ms. Alyokhina requested Mr. Kjartansson and Bjork, a relative of his, to carry out at occasions organized by pro-Ukrainian activists when Pussy Riot performs in Iceland. The reply, Mr. Kartjansson mentioned, was a powerful “Yesss!”

In Vilnius, Ms. Alyokhina’s telephone buzzed with messages of help and reduction that she was now “secure” after the weeklong journey. Ms. Alyokhina chafed at these well-intentioned expressions, which she mentioned had been off the mark.

“In case your coronary heart is free,” she mentioned, “it doesn’t matter the place you might be.”

Valerie Hopkins reported from Vilnius, and Misha Friedman from Reykjavik, Iceland.

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