When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a trade fair in the German city of Hannover on April 8, he was confronted by a group of topless female protesters from the Ukrainian rights group Femen.
Oleksandra Shevchenko was among the small group of women who ran toward Putin and shouted before being bundled away by security. She spoke on April 9 in a telephone interview from Hannover with Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service.
RFE/RL: What is your problem with Putin? Why do you protest against him?
Oleksandra Shevchenko: I don't think we're the only ones who have a problem with Putin. I think the whole planet does. He has done a lot of harm not only to his own Russian citizens but to the whole world. If you are unafraid to express your democratic opinion then it is your duty to come out and say it in his face.
Frankly, your question surprises me because the whole world talks about these problems constantly. Every day they talk about problems regarding Putin in the papers, on the radio. We simply expressed, laconically, what the whole world wants -- for Putin to go or, even better, for him to go screw himself.
RFE/RL: The German police handled you rather harshly. Was anyone hurt?
Shevchenko: It wasn't the German police but Putin's security who handled us harshly. German policemen put us in a car carefully and took us to a police station.
RFE/RL: So, the guys who grabbed you were Russian people from Putin's security?
Shevchenko: I don't know what nationality they were, but they were Putin's security guards, not German police.
RFE/RL: How did you manage to get so close to the leaders of the two countries?
Shevchenko: We are sextremists. We find our ways. It is not in our rules or interests to reveal the details.
RFE/RL: Did you notice Vladimir Putin's facial expression?
Shevchenko: Of course I did. I looked him in the eye. He was very surprised and probably shocked that there was a hole in his security and that we had found that hole and broken through it. He reacted with idiotic astonishment mixed with a smile and a stupid expression on his face.
RFE/RL: Did you manage to turn your back to the president so he could see the words written in Russian?
Shevchenko: On my chest was written "F*** Dictator." He's an educated person, so I think he was able to understand it even in English.
RFE/RL: Did the German authorities launch a criminal case against you?
Shevchenko: Yes, they launched a criminal case against us and we are expecting the prosecutor's decision now on whether the case should be sent to court or dismissed.
RFE/RL: So they brought you to a police station, put some clothes on you, questioned you, gathered information about you, asked you not to disappear anywhere, and then released you. Is that correct?
RFE/RL: Do you have a lawyer in Germany?
Shevchenko: No I don't.
RFE/RL: Could talk a little more about the other participants of the Hannover protest?
Shevchenko: This protest was carried out by two Ukrainian citizens -- myself and Oksana Shachko. Oksana Shachko was one of the activists who stole Putin's ballot box a year ago. There was another activist from Russia, Irina Khanova, and two German citizens. We are grateful to the German press, which writes objectively about us, unlike the Russian press or even the Ukrainian press.
Thanks to the unbiased coverage in the media, we now have activists from Germany, France, Brazil; we already have Femen Belgium, Femen Canada, several activists in the United States, in Britain, and a few activists in Tunisia, as you know. So, thanks to the German press, German women have found out about Femen and our ideas.
RFE/RL: How do you think this German incident will end? What action will the German police take against you?
Shevchenko: Frankly, we have a lot of hope for the German police, which will be making the decision based on the German principles of democracy and law and not out of fear of the Kremlin. So we hope everything will end well. We are not going to yield to fear, or flee Germany, or hide anywhere.