Activists bare all to expose dark side of Ukraine’s Euro 2012 role

ANNA darts gleefully around the two sparsely-furnished rooms situated through an archway off a steep street that climbs up from Kiev’s Independence Square. She is a general showing off her new headquarters.

“This is going to be our training room for our Euro strikes,” she says, pointing to a set of wall-bars and pull-up bars. “That’s for the girls to get fit on for when they scrap with the police or have to run away from them.”

The topless activists of the Femen women’s rights group, whose eye-catching antics have made them the cover girls of international feminist protest, are making it clear that their attendance at next month’s Euro 2012 football tournament – welcome or not – can be counted on.

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Bare-breasted flashmob-style public appearances by the group are guaranteed throughout a month-long football feast expected to draw a million or so foreign visitors to Ukraine.

They struck yesterday, grabbing the tournament trophy while it was on display in the south-eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk before being seized themselves by police, one with the slogan “F*** Euro 2012” daubed on her naked torso.

Anna Hutsol, 27, is the group’s main ideologue. She spoke this weekend of a blizzard of such stunts to dramatise Femen’s view that Euro 2012 will fuel prostitution and the sex industry in the former Soviet republic.

She said: “We are going to do everything we can to interrupt and disrupt, to break up these [Euro 2012] events.”

She says she has 40 or so Femen activists on stand-by for action in Kiev, with two or three in each of the other host cities, Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk. They will also be visiting the co-host, Poland, during the event, which runs from 9 June to 1 July.

So, will they “streak” onto a pitch? Will they raid a VIP box? Will they pull off an en masse Femen spectacular at the final?

“We’ll be staging all sorts of strikes – at stadiums, at press conferences and at cup ceremonies, everywhere,” she said.

Far from being a showcase for a modern European state as the authorities envisage, Femen says the football championships will only hurt Ukraine by boosting prostitution and making it a sex tourism destination in Europe.

Sasha Shevchenko, 24, a Femen regular, said: “Euro 2012 will not help Ukraine develop. The only thing that will develop is the sex industry here. Euro 2012 will help make Ukraine one big Euro brothel.”

It is an event the group has spent at least two years sharpening its knives for.

Some critics question the sincerity of their beliefs and dismiss the young women as attention-seekers. Don’t their topless antics only provide images for a prurient, sex-obsessed media and reinforce the stereotype of Ukrainian women that Femen is fighting against? Do their tactics help or hurt their cause?

Eccentric and contradictory though it might seem, going topless in public is the only effective weapon the group has found to get attention, Femen says.

Since the group came together in 2008 – then using a café as its operational base – it has gone on to gain a global reputation.

There is something to Femen’s complaints about sex tourism. Though prostitution is illegal, pimps regularly work central Kiev streets, handing out cards for erotic massage parlours or walking up to foreign men to direct them to apartments for sex.