Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova on Russia Invasion of Ukraine - Rolling Stone
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Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova: ‘Fuck Putin. I Hope He Dies Soon’

The singer-activist accuses the E.U. of not taking the Russian invasion sufficiently seriously, and discusses a crypto fundraiser that raised nearly $3 million for Ukraine in less than 24 hours

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, backstage at Terminal 5 in New York, 2/26/22Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, backstage at Terminal 5 in New York, 2/26/22

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, backstage at Terminal 5 in New York, 2/26/22.

Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

A decade ago this week, five members of Pussy Riot donned colorful balaclavas inside a Moscow cathedral and performed a raucous “Punk Prayer” to Mother Mary, pleading with her to “drive away” Russian President Vladimir Putin. Three Rioters were arrested, convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” and sentenced to two years in prison, where they survived somehow under inhumane conditions.

Saturday night, one of those women, Nadya Tolokonnikova, reveled in her freedom onstage at a Pussy Riot performance. At the New York City venue Terminal 5, she performed clubby electropop music with a sultry, S&M flair and, once again, spoke out against the man who, improbably, 10 years later, is still Russia’s president. “I hate war,” she told the audience. “I love peace. I support Ukraine. Fuck Putin. I hope he dies soon.”

In the days since Russia invaded Ukraine, Tolokonnikova says she has felt immeasurably distraught. After Pussy Riot’s set, she says backstage that when she tried to sit for an interview earlier in the day she broke into tears three times. Some of her friends in Russia are in jail for protesting the invasion, while simultaneously she’s received messages from friends in Ukraine that speak to the country’s resilience and give her hope. She had originally hoped to perform a duet tonight with headliner Marina on the latter’s recent single “Purge the Poison,” but Tolokonnikova ultimately opted not to because she feels too overwhelmed.

In recent days, she has focused her efforts on launching UkraineDAO, a crypto fundraiser she claims sends money right to the wallets of Ukrainian citizens via the charity Come Back Alive. The endeavor raised nearly $3 million, selling NFTs of the Ukrainian flag, within 24 hours of launching.

Despite feeling exhausted, she decided to carry on with her set. As a laptop played a mix of Pussy Riot songs like “Police State,” “Panic Attack,” and an unreleased new song called “Hate-Fuck,” Tolokonnikova evoked oohs and ahhs of admiration from the packed audience. She sang along and playfully waved a red bullwhip at two skimpily dressed twerkers wearing balaclavas. If the crowd didn’t know what to expect from a Pussy Riot show, she won them over by adding in Europop like t.A.T.u.’s “Not Gonna Get Us” and a round of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” It was a party — with politics.

nadya tolokonnikova pussy riot

Pussy Riot, Terminal 5, 2/26/22

Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

“I made a deal with myself that it’s OK to continue to do art, especially if your art is inherently political,” she says, mustering a smile. “I sang today about a lot of stuff like, no police state — a lot of songs are dedicated to police oppression and to dictatorship. I felt like I’m not distracting from the message. I’m actually contributing to anti-war and anti-authoritarianism.”

Backstage, Tolokonnikova reflected on the horror and hope that have defined the past few days.

How difficult was it to perform just now?
It was really hard. Today was an extremely challenging day. I said in the beginning that I wish Putin would die, and I didn’t prepare that. It just came out. … I recently spoke with someone about my safety. And I was like, I’m not making it easier for myself to maintain safety [laughs]. This kind of shit definitely can make you feel that.

How did you get UkraineDAO together so quickly?
In the last year, I’ve been working a lot in crypto and NFTs and we’ve been organizing this thing called Pussyverse. It’s an organization and a movement of people who try to bring more equality to the digital art space. We are collecting large pool of money, and we’re planning to use it to buy art from women and LGBTQ+ artists in the digital space and really raise the [value] of their artworks. So when we got this devastating news that Putin started the war in Ukraine, my first reaction was to try to help through what I know how to do, and I decided to do a DAO with a number of friends.

Why did you decide to work with Come Back Alive to get money to Ukrainians?
I have a lot of friends in Ukraine. I think Ukrainians are extremely brave, beautiful, fierce, and inspirational. I know a lot of people, from anarchists to ministers, from people in the streets to parliament, and it gives me a pretty good understanding what is the best foundation to put money in. Most of the Ukrainians who are in touch with me and the other people in the DAO say Come Back Alive is the best foundation to contribute to right now. The plus of crypto is it’s borderless, it’s permit-less. Nobody can stop it, even if it’s the war zone. If you have access to internet, you have access to funds.

What have you been hearing from your Ukrainian friends this week?
[Sighs.] No generalizations are accurate, but I’d say that Ukrainians are really positive in the face of invasive disasters. That’s what I saw in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea, when Putin started war in eastern Ukraine at the time. I know a lot of people who went through war and obviously they’re traumatized but they’re leading their normal lives. The ones I’ve met are extremely resilient. I guess the general attitude is that they’re really angry about Putin. They understand that not all Russians support Putin. And that distinction is really important to me because a lot of Russians are protesting and going to the streets to restore their freedoms and lives.

I think the most fascinating fact about Ukrainians, and I hear it from them, is that they’re never going to give up. A lot of Ukrainians have said that Putin was expecting them to give up the control of the country to him. But that didn’t happen. They just have this spirit of, “This is our country. This is our baby.” And I really think that the president of Ukraine, [Volodymyr] Zalenskyy, is doing really, really well. He refused to leave Kyiv and he said, “We’re just going to defend it.” And they’re achieving amazing results.

There have been marches and demonstrations against Putin’s invasion this week around the world. But the ones in Russia are especially notable. How dangerous is it to stand up to Putin’s regime?
It’s extremely dangerous. Thousands of people were arrested over the last four days, and they were arrested brutally. They’re being beaten while it happens.

For example, my daughter, she has a friend who’s 14 years old, but she looks like she’s 10. She went to protest with her dad, and a cop tried to beat her and tried to arrest her. Her dad said, “What are you doing? This is my daughter. She’s a child.” And the police actually caused her trauma; she has a bandage. [Tolokonnikova gestures to her arm]. It’s visible trauma that she had to go to hospital to fix that. But instead of arresting the girl, they switched to her father, and they threw him on the ground. They beat him and now he is arrested for a couple of days. So it’s definitely really challenging.

The price of protesting in North America is completely different. Here, you can protest, but most likely you’re going to be freed in a day or two, but it’s not like that in my country. You can easily go to jail for five years just for simply participating in a protest or even for tweeting. I have two criminal cases against me for social media posts. [Governmental punishment] doesn’t require to go to protests; you just open our mouths on YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. They follow our Instagram stories.

One reason Putin is invading Ukraine is to boost nationalism in Russia. The protests suggest it’s not working. How widespread is nationalism there?
I’d say imperialism more than nationalism because he wants to restore the Soviet Union. It’s more about empires and building one single nation. That’s what he wants, but I don’t think he’s going to achieve that because people are not hungry for war.

They were much hungrier for that in 2014. He had really quick success, but that disappeared really quickly when Russians realized that Putin’s foreign military adventures brings more problems to regular Russian citizens because of sanctions. They suffer. Putin is not going to suffer. He’s extremely rich. So it’s not going to affect his quality of life, but that’s going to affect a regular person, and I feel really sorry for that.

Second, we don’t have a good look in the world. When you travel with a Russian passport, people look down on you. I travel with a Russian passport, and it’s a pain in the ass. You’re being represented by an aggressor.

What would you like to see the American government or the E.U. do regarding the Ukraine invasion?
Just to have some balls and do something. It’s obvious that Putin is just a dangerous dictator who has to be stopped. He’s not just dangerous for people in his country, he’s dangerous for peace globally. A lot of people have been half-joking, talking about this invasion starting the Third World War. But it’s a war in Europe. It’s not a joke. It’s full-blown war.

I think governments or the E.U. are not taking it seriously enough. I think this war is partly the result of the international reaction to Putin’s annexation of Crimea. He learned that he can easily start war in a neighboring country that is basically a part of Europe and he’s not going to suffer that much from that.

So I think it’s time to do something. I’d say that sanctions should definitely target the Kremlin and not regular Russian citizens because they’re already struggling. But it’s a big surprise for me that a lot of Western countries, I think the world in general, still have business with Putin- and Kremlin-affiliated companies. He represents oligarchs. I guess it’s good money, but we have to think about ethics at some point.

In This Article: Nadya Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot

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