ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Pussy Riot activist Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has described the latest songs by her Russian feminist protest group as challenges to those who abuse women.
In an interview with RFE/RL on May 13, Tolokonnikova said the songs -- Ona (She) and Nozh (Knife) -- were both about women who've been victimized by domestic violence and psychological abuse.
The release of the songs comes as Russia begins to gradually emerge from coronavirus restrictions under which complaints of domestic violence across the country have more than doubled.
Tolokonnikova told RFE/RL many people do not understand that domestic abuse of women in Russia is widespread.
She said the abuse is not limited to physical violence but also often includes emotional and psychological abuse by a manipulative partner.
"I understand that violence damages an individual not only physically but also leaves psychological scars," Tolokonnikova told RFE/RL.
"One cannot trust anyone and remain open to others for many years after experiencing a situation of emotional abuse," she said. "And such cases [of emotional abuse] will never reach the police, because the police [in Russia] even laugh at you when you complain about physical abuse."
In the song Knife, Tolokonnikova sings from the point of view of an abused woman who fantasizes about retaliation.
Tolokonnikova sings: "I was sharpening a knife on the balcony for you. When you feed fish in the fish bowl, I will cut you and I will beat you. From now on I am alone. I will cut you and I will beat you. It's the saddest dream of mine, and my knife is only for you."
A video for the song Knife, released on May 13 on YouTube, shows a mock video game animation of a woman with her face covered by a protective face mask that is emblazoned with an Orthodox Christian cross and the words "Pussy Riot."
The woman wears a miniskirt bearing images of Orthodox Christian crosses and a dark shirt with a vulgar form of the word "vagina" in Russian.
Weapons appear on the screen for the woman to choose from "for self-defense and empowerment" against an abusive partner.
Her choreography is a mix of provocative dance steps and martial-arts moves.
Slogans that appear in English in the video include: "Kill the rapist," "Girl victory," "Self-defense," "Kill the sexist," "Feminist action," "Riot power," "No shame," and "Girl freedom."
Pussy Riot achieved international fame in 2012 when they were arrested in Russia for an unauthorized guerrilla-art performance of their song Punk Prayer inside Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.
That song was a protest against ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was campaigning at the time for his return to the presidency.
Tolokonnikova and another member of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, were both convicted on charges of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in prison.
They were close to completing their sentences when they were freed in December 2013 under an amnesty they’ve dismissed as a Kremlin propaganda stunt to improve Putin’s image ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
In 2017, Russia decriminalized first-time abuse offenses. That move was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which claimed that domestic abuse does not exist in Russian society.
In fact, human rights activists have been focusing on domestic violence in Russia for years.
Some Russian lawmakers, including those who have been trying to push for a new domestic-violence law, asked the government last month to take emergency steps to protect women trapped in abusive situations by Russia's coronavirus lockdown.
Tolokonnikova told RFE/RL on May 13 that her attitude to the Russian Orthodox Church "has not changed" since her arrest in 2012, "because the church's attitude toward women and the LGBT community did not change."
"Every time I hear that the Russian Orthodox Church defends family values, I would like to ask it, 'What family values exactly are you defending if you are against the criminalization of domestic violence? Are you defending murders of women, crippled destinies, psychological damage of children who live in a permanent experience of domestic violence and sometimes become orphans because of it?'"