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December 21, 2012
Former Ukrainian Porn Star, Persecuted At Home, Battles For EU Asylum
by Claire Bigg
KOUNICE, Czech Republic -- Playing with her children in the family's small living room, Anastasia Hagen looks just like any other mother.
She whisks her giggling 1-year-old son around the room on a toy car, only stopping to gently break up a scuffle between her two older boys, aged 10 and 4.
But Hagen is no ordinary mom.
The young woman, a frail 27-year-old with pale blue eyes, is famous in her native Ukraine for starring in dozens of pornographic films. She has since made headlines by reportedly becoming the first porn actress to ask -- so far unsuccessfully -- for political asylum in the European Union.
Hagen, formerly Gryshai, fled to the Czech Republic in February 2011 after Ukraine opened a criminal case against her on charges of producing and distributing pornography.
She faces up to seven years in jail under tough new laws on pornography that came into force in 2009. Ukrainian social services have also threatened to take her sons into care on the grounds that her connection with the pornography industry makes her unworthy to raise children.
'Drop In The Ocean'
Hagen, who says her days as a porn actress are behind her, believes she is the victim of a populist crusade against pornography waged by politicians in her homeland.
"In the porn industry, I'm just a drop in the ocean. There are huge numbers of girls like me," she says. "I used to shoot the scenes, get dressed, pick up my wages, and leave. I would go back home and be a normal mother. I bring up my children like all other mothers. I've never told them about what I did."
Hagen has vehemently denied distributing pornography.
She insists that she has signed away all her rights on the films and that the pornographic material found on her husband's computer during a raid on their home in Ukraine was for private use.
She claims she never filmed in Ukraine, only in Hungary and the Czech Republic.
All her requests and appeals have nonetheless been turned down by Czech authorities. In addition, her husband also frequently runs into difficulties obtaining Czech visas, meaning she has spent most of 2012 raising their children alone.
The family lives in a small but cozy two-room apartment in Kounice, a tiny village east of Prague.
'Cry Of Despair'
The young woman's plight has elicited little sympathy in her home country, where the new restrictions on pornography have struck a chord with many devout Orthodox Christians.
But some critics have denounced the law as too vague and open to abuse by authorities.
Hagen has also received support from the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, famous for their bare-breasted protests in Ukraine and beyond.
She herself demonstrated topless outside the Czech parliament earlier this month to draw attention to her case, a move she describes as "a cry of despair."
"I am fighting for the right of women to decide what to do with their bodies and where to work. It's their right. We all have the right to choose our own life," Hagen says. "I thought we lived in the 21st century, but I feel Ukraine has gone back to the 19th century."
Help has also come from unexpected quarters. Two Czech clergymen -- one Catholic and one evangelical -- recently spoke out in defense of the Hagen family and offered them shelter if needed.
Back in Ukraine, however, Hagen's foes are showing no inclination to let her off the hook.
'Immoral, Debauched Acts'
Leonid Grach, a prominent communist politician in Crimea, where she grew up, is one of five lawmakers who asked Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate her.
This is not about violations of her human rights...This is about her committing immoral, debauched acts from an early age.
Crimean politician Leonid Grach
Today, Grach is no longer a member of parliament. But he still firmly believes the young woman must face trial for her past as a porn actress.
"This is not about violations of her human rights, as she claims. This is about her committing immoral, debauched acts from an early age," Grach says. "She is the only Ukrainian woman widely known for officially appearing in pornographic films. This had to be stopped."
Hagen, in turn, says the lack of support she received from Ukrainian authorities as a young mother played a role in her decision to enter the porn business.
Left With Few Options
She was 18 years old when her husband, a welder who built a fortune making steel doors, was jailed following a business dispute with a high-profile local politician and former prosecutor.
With painfully inadequate child-care benefits and no help from her estranged parents, Hagen says she was left with few options to care for her first child, then a year old.
"The Ukrainian government did not support me. At the time, I received 90 hryvnyas [$11] per month, when a pack of nappies cost 80 hryvnyas," she says. "How were we supposed to live on this money? I had no education and no support from my family. And now, Ukrainian authorities call me immoral for finding this way of feeding myself and my baby."
This week, a Czech court granted Hagen and her children permission to remain in the Czech Republic pending a decision on her latest appeal -- a small victory in her protracted battle again eviction from the country.
The former porn star says she is determined to raise her children in the Czech Republic or any other country willing to shield her from prosecution in Ukraine. If all fails, she intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite the odds, she is not losing hope of leading an ordinary life, far from porn studios and courtrooms.
"I dream of myself as an old woman living in a big house, bigger than this one. I have a large family and many grandchildren. They all come to visit," Hagen says. "I don't know whether this is in the Czech Republic, but it is in a country in which I feel safe and free, in which I don't have to worry about my loved ones."
Nataliya Kovalenko of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report from Kyiv
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