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Russian Dissident Art Group Member Reported Dead

Leonid Nikolayev was among the group of activists who in 2010 painted a 65-meter phallus on a St. Petersburg drawbridge that, when raised, faced the windows of the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

A prominent member of the Russian dissident art collective Voina, famous for stunts like painting a giant phallus on a drawbridge facing the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), has died at the age of 31, according to his former lawyer and fellow activists.

Voina founder Oleg Vorotniko said in a September 24 blog post that Leonid Nikolayev, known by the nickname "F*****-Up Lyonya," died following an accident while cutting timber outside Moscow.

"He fell into a coma and died at the emergency room," Voina founder Oleg Vorotnikov wrote, adding that the accident happened on September 22.

Dmitry Dinze, a lawyer who had represented Nikolayev in the past, confirmed to RFE/RL that the activist has died. The formal identification of his body is scheduled for September 25, Dinze said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Russian authorities of Nikolayev's death.

Vorotnikov wrote that the activist had "lived underground for years under assumed names" due to "persecution" from the authorities.

Nikolayev staged numerous antigovernment stunts that garnered national and international attention, including amid Blue Bucket protests in 2010 against government officials who use flashing blue beacons atop their cars to cut through traffic.

In May of that year, Nikolayev sprinted across a busy thoroughfare just outside the Kremlin's walls, placed a blue bucket over his head, and climbed over a government car adorned with a beacon that was stopped on the median strip.

The car's driver got out and chased Nikolayev and knocked the blue bucket off of his head, only to reveal a second bucket on the activist's head.

Nikolayev was also among the group of activists who in 2010 painted a 65-meter phallus on a St. Petersburg drawbridge that, when raised, faced the windows of the local headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

"He was a uniquely brave man: steadfast, determined, reliable," Vorotnikov wrote of Nikolayev.

Voina's actions have tended to combine creative street art and anarchist provocation, and have enraged Russian authorities and won acclaim in the artistic community.

Since its inception in 2007, the group's other stunts have included: staging an orgy in Moscow's Darwin Museum, hosting a sit-down dinner on a Moscow subway train, overturning police cars, and staging a mock execution in a grocery store.

The most famous Russian activist to emerge from the ranks of Voina is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the punk protest collective Pussy Riot.

Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina spent nearly two years in prison for singing a "punk prayer" mocking Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012, when he was successfully seeking a third presidential term with support from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nikolayev was arrested numerous times for his guerrilla protests. In 2011, he and Vorotnikov were arrested for overturning an empty police car in protest against corruption in the country's law enforcement bodies.

They spent 3 1/2 months in jail before they were bailed out by British street artist Banksy.

Nikolayev suggested in a 2011 interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service that he and other Voina members opted to remain in Russia rather than seek refuge abroad in order to force the authorities to reckon with the group.

"If we had shown up somewhere in London or Estonia and said that now we're political refugees, that would have been an ideal conclusion for them," Nikolayev said. "They wouldn't have to concoct criminal cases, and we wouldn't stage any more stunts here. No person, no problem."

Vorotnikov and his wife and fellow activist, Natalya Sokol, later fled Russia for Italy. Vorotnikov's lawyers said last year that he planned to seek political asylum there.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, the BBC, and Ekho Moskvy
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