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Pussy Riot's Frontwoman Escaped Russia in an Epic Way: 'It Sounds Like a Spy Novel'

Disguised as a food courier, Maria Alyokhina successfully fled Russia in protest of its war on Ukraine.

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Photo: Genna Martin (AP)

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, drive Putin away!” the ski-masked members of Pussy Riot scream-sang from the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012, during a demonstration that lasted less than a minute before church security forcibly removed them. When the punk protest band debuted one year earlier, Pussy Riot became notorious, not just for their often cacophonous criticism of capitalism, religion, and naturally, Vladmir Putin, but for their guerilla-style protest performances. Some considered the protests badass, while others called them bonafide blasphemy, but one thing was clear: Pussy Riot, a group comprised entirely of anarchist women, had planted their boots on the neck of the Russian government.

Now—a decade of activism later—it’s Maria Alyokhina, one of Pussy Riot’s frontwomen, that’s been driven away.

This week, the New York Times reported that Alyokhina, along with her girlfriend and bandmate who left a month earlier, have fled their home country—not in their signature balaclavas, but disguised as food couriers. The musician has been arrested and imprisoned several times throughout her tenure in Pussy Riot, but she still stayed in Russia. This time, though, Alyokhina and her girlfriend, costumed in green uniforms and toting lunchboxes on their backs, set off for Iceland, where they plan to organize pro-Ukraine events with appearances from Björk and other Icelandic artists.

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“I don’t think Russia has a right to exist anymore,”Alyokhina told the Times. “Even before, there were questions about how it is united, by what values it is united, and where it is going. But now I don’t think that is a question anymore.”

The Times detailed that Alyokhina had been placed under house arrest after Putin began attempting to “snuff out” criticism of an anti-Ukraine invasion. When authorities recently announced that her house arrest would become a 21-day stint in a penal colony, however, she decided it was time to flee the fascist country. Moscow police had reportedly been staking out Alyokhina’s friend’s apartment, where she was staying, and she left her cellphone behind to avoid being tracked.

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A friend then drove her to the border where Belarus meets Lithuania, and after a week of attempting to cross, Alyokhina successfully escaped. It certainly helped that she had allies on the other side who procured a travel document that granted Alyokhina the same status as an E.U. citizen. When she eventually boarded a bus to Lithuania with the document, she mentioned the difference in treatment of border guards under the auspices of being “European,” rather than Russian.

“A lot of magic happened last week,” she said. “It sounds like a spy novel.”

Alyokhina also told the Times she hopes to one day return to Russia, but noted the precariousness of such a plan, given how many anti-war activists have been imprisoned or forced into exile. For now, it appears as though we can expect a few more protests from Alyokhina and company—hopefully, at least one featuring those green courier uniforms.