SOCHI, Russia – Russian punk group Pussy Riot burst onto the Olympic scene Tuesday when two of its members were picked up by police in host city Sochi – and then ran away defiant down a rain-soaked street a few hours later, shouting and wearing their trademark garish balaclavas.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, along with seven others, were held by police near Sochi’s ferry terminal. Police said they were questioned in connection with a theft at the hotel where they were staying. No charges were filed.
Putin will teach you how to love the motherland! the women chanted on leaving the police station, their fists in the air and blue, pink and orange ski masks concealing their faces.
Pussy Riot gained international attention in 2012 after barging into Moscow’s main cathedral and performing a punk prayer in which they entreated the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who was on the verge of returning to the Russian presidency for a third term.
Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were sentenced to two years in prison but were released in December under an amnesty bill seen as a Kremlin effort to assuage critics of its human rights record before the Olympics. Both women called for the boycott of the Sochi Games.
Tolokonnikova said the two band members were also detained for several hours the previous two days.
On Monday, Vladimir Luxuria, an Italian transgender activist and former lawmaker, was stopped while carrying a rainbow flag that read in Russian: Gay is OK. Luxuria said she was held by police and told not to wear clothing with slogans promoting gay rights.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee defended Luxuria’s removal, saying she was escorted from there peacefully.