• Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty

    Donetsk Diary

    Searching for Ukraine’s Disappeared

    Kiev is keeping silent on the hundreds of citizens kidnapped in east Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists—but one activist is determined to bear witness to the missing.

    Two things motivated Yekaterina Sergatskova to put together her list of people abducted during the past three months of unrest in eastern Ukraine: a lack of interest in the problem by Ukrainian media, and almost no mention of the rising wave of disappearances by state officials. Some people had vanished without a trace; others were given a chance to place a phone call and negotiate their freedom. One night last April, Sergatskova, 26, and an aide sat down and put together a database, to catalogue the victim’s name, and the date and place of abduction. All in all, she counted more than 100 cases. The names included businessmen, bureaucrats, journalists, editors, city council members, and regular citizens.

    Since that night, Sergatskova has taken many trips to Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Luhansk, and a number of other Ukrainian towns gripped by the civil war, to interview heartbroken relatives and take the testimony of abductees who managed to escape or were released from jails in the basements of former state buildings seized by pro-Russian militias.

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  • The Americans/FX

    Crisis in Ukraine

    Soviet-Style Sexual Politics Returns

    In troubled Odessa, suspicion of foreigners and dissenters is once again on the rise, with women often its targets and its tools.

    ODESSA, Ukraine — Spend enough time in Ukraine and someone will tell you that Ukrainians are the most beautiful women in the world. Spend enough time in Odessa and you’ll hear its women are the most beautiful in Ukraine. Certainly that reputation has been exploited over the years, as Odessa remains a center for the country’s pervasive and lucrative sex trade. But it was the Soviet spy service, the KGB, that first took the organized exploitation of Ukrainian women to a new level.

    Odessa was the largest and most important port in the Soviet Union (it remains the largest in Ukraine), which meant a steady flow of news and people from the world beyond the Iron Curtain. The USSR saw that fact as a huge threat.  So the KGB assembled a group of young women with an aptitude for languages. They were some of the few citizens who were allowed to speak and learn foreign tongues fluently and interact with the outside world. They also became very fluent in a different sort of language. When foreign sailors called at Odessa they were all herded to one specific bar called Inter Club. Behind the scenes, the KBG was running it.

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  • Scanpix Denmark/Reuters

    TAKE THAT, PUTIN

    Why Russia Hates The Bearded Lady

    In Copenhagen at the annual Eurovision Song Contest, victory went to “The Bearded Lady” from Austria. How did the competition get so silly, and so serious?

    For a 58-year-old singing competition that somehow balances impossibly serious politics and impossibly silly music, perhaps it was inevitable that Austria’s “Bearded Lady,” Conchita Wurst, would find himself both cause and conductor of a political and cultural firestorm.

    Only at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014 could a guy with a beard wearing a frock cause such ructions.

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  • Anadolu Agency/Getty

    Riots Not Diets

    The Feminists Who Took On Putin

    Feminism may be a dirty word in Russia, but the punk artists of Pussy Riot and the topless crusaders of Femen are among the few willing to stand up to Putin.

    Feminism has long been a dirty word in Russia. Just ask Svetlana Smetanina, a journalist for the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper who, in a 2010 article, voiced an opinion that many Russians seem to share: women who self-identify as feminists are harpies, she wrote, “unfulfilled in their personal lives and bent on revenging themselves on men for their own unhappiness.”

    Smetanina’s op-ed is representative of the outright disdain in Russia toward feminists—an attitude on full display in recent months, crystallized in the Western mind by images of the punk art collective Pussy Riot being whipped by Cossacks in Sochi and of brutes in Crimea violently choking young, topless activists from the radical group Femen, whose bare-breasted protests against patriarchy and dictatorship (in this case Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine) have made them media darlings in the West. Love them or hate them, these women are at the vanguard of the fight against Putin’s repressive state at a time when the domestic opposition has been effectively neutered.

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  • RT

    Hit the Road, Vlad

    RT Anchor: Here’s Why I Quit

    Liz Wahl wasn’t just disgusted by the Kremlin-funded TV network’s handling of Ukraine, she says in an exclusive interview. RT’s coverage “made me feel sick.”

    American journalist Liz Wahl just made Vladimir Putin’s enemies list.

    Wahl, an American anchor for RT-America, a cable news network funded by the Russian government, stunned viewers Wednesday, when, at the end of her 5 PM broadcast, she announced her resignation from the channel.

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  • AFP/Getty

    Thug-ocracy

    Putin’s Post-Sochi LGBT Crackdown

    The Olympic Games are finally over—which means the Kremlin will soon be ramping back up its toxic anti-homosexuality campaign.

    In the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, much ink was spilled regarding the persecution of LGBT people in Vladimir Putin’s Russia -- along with the occasional prophecy of chaos at the Games themselves.  Those prophecies were never going to be fulfilled; as in Munich in 1936, the past two weeks have been relatively quiet, with the exception of a small kerfuffle involving Pussy Riot and whip-toting Cossacks.

    But all this is prologue.  In fact, Putin’s pre-Sochi campaign against gays in his home country was only in the first stage of a much larger and more dangerous process that will only get underway after the spotlights have turned elsewhere.

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  • Members of the punk group Pussy Riot, including Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in the blue balaclava and Maria Alekhina in the pink balaclava, are attacked by Cossack militia in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Morry Gash/AP)

    Pussy Riot Whips Sochi

    The punk rock activists performed a new project called “Putin will teach you how to love the motherland”—the violent response quickly went global.

    On Thursday, shortly before running to the airport, the punk protest group Pussy Riot had farewell drinks with their friends from local civil society organizations at the  Munich bar in Sochi. The discussion at the table buzzed around the “dumb” and “self-discrediting” treatment of the activists by Russian authorities in the midst of the Olympic Games. Maria Alyokhina, who was recently released from jail under an pre-Olympic amnesty, said that after spending almost two years incarcerated for a protest punk performance, she was not surprised with “typical actions by authorities in Sochi against people with different opinions.”

    The activists had arrived in Sochi with the aim of performing a new song called “Putin will teach you how to love the motherland.” But thanks to the security lockdown, the project proved more difficult than the band expected. “They tried to stop us by beating us with whips, by spraying gas into our eyes and onto our faces,” Alyokhina told The Daily Beast.

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  • ONLY STRONGER

    Pussy Riot: We Can’t be Silenced

    May even run for Russian office.

    Pussy Riot isn’t afraid of prison or Putin. Two of its members spent up to 21 months incarcerated and as the band begins a tour of New York, they are speaking out about how jail has only emboldened their efforts to change Russia. "What happened was that the support and care shown internationally made us free,” Maria Alyokhina, 25, said. The group is still politically active, encouraging protests ofthe Sochi Olympics and contemplating running for political office in the future. “In these two years, the situation in Russia has gotten so much worse.” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 24. “And if we couldn’t keep quiet about it then, then we certainly won’t keep quiet about it now.”

    Read it at New York Times
  • Member of female punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova gestures before a court hearing in Moscow on August 8, 2012. (AFP/Getty, NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA)

    Mystery Solved

    Pussy Riot: Lost and Found

    After disappearing for more than three weeks in Russia’s draconian prison system, Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova has been located in a remote hospital.

    Finally, after more than three weeks of looking for her, and rumors that she had been killed, Pyotr Verzilov finally found his wife at a Siberian hospital.

    Verzilov, a radical Russian artist and husband of the Pussy Riot activist NadezhdaTolokonnikova, received a phone call yesterday morning from an acquaintance: “Your wife is at the TB clinic in Krasnoyarsk,” he was told. After 21 days, during which Tolokonnikova was missing in the Russian prison system, somewhere between the Mardova region and Siberia, the news was “ a big joy.” Besides, Verzilov did not feel particularly alarmed, as Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1, despite its name, treats a wide range of diseases. Hospital authorities allowed Verzilov to speak to his wife on the phone yesterday, and today, he was invited to come to the hospital, though he would only be permitted to speak to his wife by video linkup.

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  • A member of the female punk band "Pussy Riot" Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sits in a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow, August 17, 2012. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters, © Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)

    Punk Heroines

    Pussy Riot Strike Ends

    Nadezhda Tolokonnikova fell ill and ended her nine-day strike protesting decrepit conditions in a remote penal colony. Anna Nemtsova reports.

    On the ninth day of her hunger strike, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova felt weak and sick. The 23-year-old Tolokno, as she’s known in Russia, is a member of the punk band Pussy Riot, and was jailed last year along with two of her bandmates for their subversive performances. She’s currently serving a two-year sentence in Penal Labor Colony No. 14, a Stalinist-gulag-turned-prison camp in the remote region of Mordova. On the day in question, she lay in bed in the prison infirmary, wearing her trademark black clothes, listless and silent. Her body was covered in red pimples that resembled a chicken pox infection. Prison doctors put Manganese solution on each pimple, which made Tolokno look like a leopard. Yet no diagnosis of her illness could be made, her doctors told her, and no real treatment prescribed unless she ended her hunger strike.

    This was the scene that greeted Ilya Ponamarev, a member of Russia’s parliament, during his visit with Tolokonnikova at the infirmary. Flat on her back, she was determined to starve herself because of the decrepit conditions and harsh punishments she said she faced in the penal colony. Her first question to the deputy: whether her protest letter criticizing “slave labor” at Penal Colony No. 14 had made an impact beyond the prison’s bars. Ponamarev assured her that it had.

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  • Protesters demonstrate against the prison sentences of the Russian band Pussy Riot. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

    Protest

    Pussy Riot Member Begins Hunger Strike

    To protest brutal conditions at penal colony.

    In an open letter to The Guardian, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova announced that she will begin a hunger strike to protest conditions at Penal Colony No. 14 in Mordovia, where she is imprisoned. Tolokonnikova documents brutal abuses at the prison camp, including 17-hour workdays, constant beatings, and death threats from a camp administrator. Tolokonnikova is serving a two-year sentence for “hooliganism” after participating in an anti-Putin, anti-clerical performance in a Moscow cathedral last year.

    Read it at The Guardian
  • Yuri Kochetkov/AP

    Justice

    Female Judge In Putin's Crosshairs

    Tamara Morshakova is one of Russia's most illustrious legal minds—and the target of a sprawling Kremlin witch hunt. Anna Nemtsova reports from Moscow.

    The reception room at the Echo of Moscow radio station—a famous hangout of Russia’s intelligentsia—was crowded and tense. With just minutes to go before a talk show devoted to the Russian criminal court system, guests crowded around an elegant woman who was the evening’s star: Tamara Morshakova, a retired judge, professor, former deputy head of the Russian Constitutional Court, member of President Vladimir Putin’s human-rights council, and one of the prime targets of a spurious witch-hunt by the Kremlin.

    Morshakova’s story has been the talk of Moscow for the past few weeks, ever since the Investigative Committee—Russia’s toughest law enforcement organization—questioned her for two days for her alleged involvement in the so-called “Case of Experts.” The convoluted case involves allegations that academics, judges, and social activists received foreign funds to secretly push for liberalization and to convince the government to be lenient on jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Many of the Kremlin’s critics have fled the country after similar interrogations by the Investigative Committee, to escape the threat of prison.

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  • K.M. Chaudary/AP

    Extremism

    Inside the Minds of Russia’s Black Widows

    In the Caucasus region, women are losing husbands and sons to the Islamic insurgency against Russia—and becoming radicalized by their own grief.

    On January 4 last year, local Dagestani bureaucrats brought 42-year-old Zuleikha Karnayeva a picture of the biggest love of her life: her son Khan, whom she’d sent to go study Arabic in Cairo a year prior. In the photo, Khan had the same plump cheeks she loved to kiss, the same childish smile. But he was also wearing camouflage and had a Kalashnikov in his hands. The officials told her that Khan was not, in fact, a student in Egypt, but a mujahid fighting against the Russian Federation—and a target of the federal security services.

    Karnayeva’s heart flew into her throat. “That day, I lost my sense of life entirely,” she says. Where once she had enjoyed wearing short tops that exposed her midriff, and even shorts,  she now adopted a uniform of long skirts and a black hijab, and joined the conservative and broadly persecuted community of Salafi Muslims in Russia. She looked for Khan all over banned Internet websites for Muslim warriors. Once, she found him in a video addressing Russian Muslims to stop taking bank credits and paying state taxes. She watched the video blog by her “beloved little boy” hundreds of times, until it vanished from the Internet. Police came by and searched her house for explosives every couple of weeks.

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