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Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin
Pussy Riot in 2012Photo by Igor Mukhin via creative commons

Pussy Riot discuss their disturbing treatment by the KGB

Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina had her cavity searched by Russian state security on a ‘daily basis’

As Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina prepares for her stage debut in a new play that explores her persecution as an artist, the activist musician discussed her experiments following her prison release, and her treatment by Russian state security.

Back in 2012, Alyokhina was arrested with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and sentenced to two years in prison after singing anti-Putin songs in a Moscow church. When she was released after 21 months, she and other Pussy Riot members staged a protest at the Olympics in Sochi, where they were beaten by Cossacks.

Now, in a new interview with i, Alyokhina has opened up about the psychological torture she was forced to endure throughout that period – particularly the humiliating daily prison searches. “The most terrible thing is that when it happens to you, after the first, second and third time, you feel nothing – it’s become normal,” Alyokhina recalls. “No mirrors, no gloves, just fingers.”

Alyokhina is currently starring in new play Burning Doors at Belarus Free Theatre, which dramatises a number of these traumatic experiences. “For me, it was important to have the experience of facing things I’m afraid of,” she explains. “To put scenes from my life on stage and face them 10, 20 times again, to understand how far I can go.”

Burning Doors also tells the story of Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky, who famously nailed his scrotum to the Red Square in response to a politically indifferent society. He was imprisoned after setting fire to the headquarters of the Russian state security faction KGB, which is now the FSB. He has contributed two texts for the piece. The play also includes the story of Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned for 20 years, despite denying the charges, for “plotting acts of terrorism” in Crimea. Sentsov has issued a statement via his sister, who smuggled it from his prison in Siberia.

“It was more painful to see my country after I left prison,” Alyokhina adds. “In jail, the rules for existing are very clear but when you come out and you see that your country is putting military forces into another sovereign country, what can you do about it? It’s the challenge of freedom.”

Burning Doors is showing at London’s Soho Theatre until September 24