After more than a year of covering the topless protest actions of Ukrainian feminist crew FEMEN, I have finally caught up with the girls on Skype and we got all cozy and contemplative, right before they got arrested for protesting Euro-2012 Soccer Games, again. Check out ANIMAL’s interview with Inna Shevchenko and Jenya Krayzman on prostitution, oligarchs and lesbians — plus, a special, blurry, bare-breasted video salute in support for #OccupyWallSt!
Who are these girls fighting with cops, tits out, screeching in the street for freedom of the press and brandishing blowtorches to ward off sex tourists? “We’re the crazy girls representing the people, by any means necessary.” Though we may not see eye to eye on everything — specifically, the girls’ uncompromising stance on pornography and sex work — after a long chat, I have a better notion of where they’re coming from, with teeth, with heart… and via their janky-ass video cam. (Sorry.) Meet the sweet, fierce “Bitches of Democracy.”
Inna Shevchenko (pictured above), translated from Russian:
Do you support the Occupy Wall Street protests? You know, we’ve had some topless protestors too…
We’ve just learned about the protests, watched the videos of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests and read up. We sympathize! It’s the same in Ukraine: 99% of the people are taken hostage by the 1% of the oligarch class living here, running the country, calling the shots and robbing the nation. But Wall Street is a global issue. This is close to our hearts and we’re excited to see women protesting topless!
Public nudity is actually legal in NYC. Meanwhile, you’re constantly being arrested. Is it because of the boobs? Why are the cops so hard on you?
They try to arrest us for appearing topless in public, but it’s not explicitly outlawed by the Ukrainian criminal code. So they call it “criminal hooliganism,” Code 73. I say, they’re arresting us for inconveniencing the government, for being the only movement in Ukraine that functions without the financial support of a political group and for doing something quite simple and primitive — speaking the truth. Cops here are government lackeys. We’re the crazy girls representing the people, by any means necessary.
How did you get into running around topless with FEMEN?
There was no sudden conversion for me. We all have different stories. Jenya has been there from the beginning, from before the beginning. When we all moved to Kiev, it was time to do something more global, more adult. It all began with a need for a women’s issues forum. It was gradual. I met Anna, Sasha, the girls, Jenya. For awhile, I didn’t take part in the actions; I had moral apprehensions. I once thought there was a better way. That changed. Then, I was fired from my job as a journalist for the city archival administration for participating in the actions. So, I decided to devote myself to FEMEN full time. I’m activist and an organizer. FEMEN is my work. FEMEN is my life. I don’t think about how it all happened.
I understand that your main agenda is the “Anti-Prostitution”/anti-sex tourism platform. Are you opposed to sex work in general or are you against the exploitative element of Ukrainian sex industry in particular?
First of all, women are the victims of the sex industry. In Ukraine, this is an epidemic. Prostitution is an enormous business, a vast vortex that sucks women in. Sex bosses hire propagandists to daily snag them off the streets, from bars, cafes, night clubs, peddling this myth that a successful Ukrainian woman is one that makes substantial money selling her body: “You’re so pretty and sexy. Instead of earning $30 a month as a schoolteacher, wouldn’t you rather earn $1000 a month enjoying yourself?” This is a poor country and women are suffering. We’ve talked to many prostitutes. They all have the same story. They’re economically disadvantaged. Some have a kid to feed and can’t even feed themselves with their waitressing jobs… Never mind self-realization!
What about female-owned porn studios or unoppressed sex workers? As a feminist, don’t you think that a woman can make a conscious choice, taking the pressures of poverty out of the equation?
If a woman makes this choice, it’s in distress due to factors outside her control. Even in other countries, I don’t think any woman – Ukrainian, Italian, American – ever thinks that she wants to sell her body, that she wants to be a good, an object. I don’t believe this.
How’s your love life?
There’s this myth in Ukraine that FEMEN girls have problems with men, that men are scared of them, that they don’t want any men, that we’re all lesbians. We even have a few married girls! Their husbands come out for the actions and help beat the cops away! No, it’s all good. Lots of the girls have boyfriends.
We enjoyed your topless niqāb drive-by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in support of Saudi Arabian women’s right to drive. You support many international feminist causes, yet, in your homeland where there’s virtually no rights and no social or legal recognition for LGBT, you’ve never supported any of your persecuted lesbian sisters. What gives? You oppose that too?
As feminists, we support all women. Homosexuality is normal and there’s nothing shameful about it. But you have to understand — in Ukraine, there is no notion of a sexual minority. It is not allowed. Our rigid Ukrainian men dismiss this with confusion and aversion. What can we say? There’s no notion of what a feminist is either; Ukrainians all image feminists as these male-like creatures who are angry at life. We haven’t brought up gay rights yet because Ukraine hasn’t brought it up. It is not in the public forum. When a porn actress approached us for help with leaving the industry, we took up her cause. We have a few gay male and female friends, but they don’t want to go public.
So, if a lesbian who was being discriminated against, harassed or abused approached you, you would stand up for the cause?
Without question. No discussion. The answer is simply “Yes.”
So where do you get money?
We live off donations from DJ Hell and an American expat journalist who lives in Ukraine. Neither are politically motivated — they just like our crazy ways and righteous ideas. We make a few grivnas selling FEMEN mugs, t-shirts and “Boobs-Prints.” It’s our small merchandizing effort so the girls who devote 24 hours a day to FEMEN can at least rent a room in Kiev. We don’t have enough money to take our actions to Europe or the States, but we dream about it.
Do you have any political aspirations beyond FEMEN?
There’s no “beyond FEMEN.” We’ve wreaked so much havoc, there’s no going back. We do want to enter politics, as the radical FEMEN Party. We just don’t have the funds to register the party, which is expensive. The corrupt administration is keeping us down. Right now, our dream is to go to all the capitals of Europe and to the US to start FEMEN factions and spread our ideals, to defend the free woman, free of sexual, financial and political exploitation. Let ’em know we are ready for anything! We are the voice of our nation, our generation. That’s why we go to the city square, rip off our clothes and shout until someone hears us.
All FEMEN actions here.
Find FEMEN on Facebook here.