Maria Alyokhina arrives at a court hearing in Moscow in March 2021.
A founding member of the Pussy Riot protest group, Maria Alyokhina, has revealed in an interview that she fled Russia after a Moscow court changed the remainder of her one-year parole-like sentence to real prison time last month, saying she violated the terms of her punishment.
Alyokhina's whereabouts were unknown for weeks after the Russian Interior Ministry added her to its registry of wanted persons on April 26, five days after a Moscow court approved the change in a sentence she was handed last September for violating coronavirus safety precautions by calling on people to protest against the detention of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny.
The court ruling meant that Alyokhina was going to have to serve the remaining 21 days of her sentence in a penal colony. In the interview with The New York Times, published late on May 10, Alyokhina said she escaped by disguising herself as a food delivery courier while leaving her mobile phone behind so police couldn't track her.
She managed to reach Belarus and after two failed attempts to cross into neighboring Lithuania, a European Union member, she made it through on a bus on the strength of a travel document arranged by Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson, a friend who convinced a European country to issue Alyokhina a travel document that essentially gave her the same status as an EU citizen. "I was happy that I made it because it was an unpredictable and a big 'f**k-off'" to the Russian authorities, Alyokhina said after becoming one of thousands of Russian citizens who have fled the country after Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Alyokhina's partner and fellow Pussy Riot member Lyusya Shtein, who also fled Russia in April, posted photos of herself on Twitter dressed in a green Delivery Club uniform and wearing a food delivery backpack, describing the pictures as "the easy way to pass cops next to your apartment block."
Shtein tweeted that Alyokhina did not flee Russia but "has gone on tour," adding, "And I, let us say, have freed myself."
Alyokhina, Shtein, and other members of the protest group have been sentenced to up 15 days in jail several times in recent months over taking part in protest actions and unsanctioned rallies. Pussy Riot came to prominence after three of its members were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a stunt in which they burst into Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister at the time and campaigning for his subsequent return to the Kremlin. Alyokhina and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had almost completed serving their two-year prison sentences when they were freed in December 2013 under an amnesty. The two have dismissed the move as a propaganda stunt by Putin to improve his image ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that were held in the Russian resort city of Sochi.