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Femen (Ukrainian: Фемен), stylized as FEMEN, is a Ukrainian-French radical feminist activist group intended to protect women's rights. The organization became internationally known for organizing controversial topless protests against sex tourism, religious institutions, sexism, homophobia and other social, national and international topics. Founded in Ukraine, the group is now based in Paris.
|Founded||10 April 2008|
|Type||Protest and activist group|
The organization describes itself as "fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations - sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion" and has stated that its goal is "sextremism serving to protect women's rights". Femen activists have been regularly detained by police in response to their protests.
Anna Hutsol is credited as having founded the Femen movement on 10 April 2008, after she became aware of stories of Ukrainian women duped into going abroad and then taken advantage of sexually. However, according to the 2013 documentary by Kitty Green, Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, Femen was founded by Viktor Sviatsky. In September 2013 Inna Shevchenko responded to the documentary stating that Sviatsky "did lead the movement some time ago...We accepted this because we did not know how to resist and fight it....This is when I decided to leave Ukraine for France to build a new Femen". Femen member Inna Shevchenko discussed Sviatsky with The Independent in January, 2014, and, while not using the word 'founder' said: 'I will never deny that he is a smart person. He was the reason why we knew each other. He was one of those smart people around us at the beginning, who were more experienced.' Since 2013 Femen is led by Inna Shevchenko who initiated the international development of the movement. Other Ukrainian founders stopped their activity.
Initially, Femen gained attention by demonstrating in skimpy or erotic clothing. For example, on 21 September 2008 in front of the Turkish embassy[where?], a dozen Femen members were dressed as sexy nurses with smudged makeup and high pink heels; however, at the 24 August 2009 demonstration on Ukrainian independence day, Oksana Shachko went topless. Since this approach obtained such great publicity, it rapidly became FEMEN's trademark approach. While most of the protests have been confined to bare breasts, in October 2010 Shachko exposed her buttocks outside a locked toilet in a demonstration to protest the lack of public toilets in Kiev, and four of the group members staged a similar protest in Kiev in February 2011.
From late 2011, the Ukrainian Femen activists started to hold more international protests. In December 2011 three Femen activists stated that the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus had abducted and terrorized them after they staged topless protests in Minsk.[nb 1] On 8 April 2013 five Femen members "topless ambushed" Russian President Vladimir Putin (accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel) at the Hanover trade fair.
After Inna Shevchenko chopped down a wooden cross overlooking Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev on 17 August 2012, she stated that she had received several death threats and that her front door had been kicked in. Fearing arrest, she sought asylum in France and moved to Paris. There, in September 2012, she established a training facility for activists for Femen in France.
In late July 2013, one of the ideologists of the Femen, Viktor Sviatsky[nb 2], and Hutsol were assaulted on the eve of a visit by Putin to Kiev to celebrate the 1,025th anniversary of the Christianization of Kievan Rus'. According to Hutsol, those who attacked them "resemble those cooperating with secret services SBU and FSB".
Femen has several international branches. The Femen office in their native Kiev was closed and the organization's leadership left Ukraine ("Fearing for their lives and freedom") in August 2013.
In October 2012 the organization stated it had about 40 activists in Ukraine, and another 100 who had joined their protests abroad, as well as twelve thousand followers via the social network Vkontakte.
In October 2013 Femen had its largest membership in France. In January 2013 Femen France counted 30 local activists. In 2010, the group comprised some 320 activists, with about 300 of the active participants being in Kiev. In a 2010 interview, Anna Hutsol said that in addition to 20 core organizers there are 300 activists in Kiev, as well as a social network based on vkontakte of about 20,000 persons. Female university students between 18 and 20 years old formed the backbone of the movement when it was formed in 2008, with few male members. In 2011, various sources stated that in an interview Anna Hutsol said that the movement has 150 thousand supporters. In October 2012 the organization said that it had about 40 activists in Ukraine, and another 100 who had joined their protests abroad.
Hutsol stated in July 2010: "We are working better than any news agency. We have a photographer, cinematographer, designer and content manager." In Ukraine, most of FEMEN's demonstrations are staged in Kiev, but the organization has also held actions in cities like Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhia. In April 2010 the organization contemplated becoming a political party to run for seats in the October 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary election. However, it did not take part in these elections.
Femen explained its methodology of topless protesting by saying: "This is the only way to be heard in this country. If we staged simple protests with banners, then our claims would not have been noticed". The organization plans to become the biggest and the most influential movement in Europe.
Facebook initially blocked the Femen page because it suspected it was pornographic. In addition, Femen has displayed several provocative images on its Facebook page, including images of Femen activists taking a chainsaw to the heads of Vladimir Putin and Kirill I of Moscow, who were depicted covered in blood.
In 2010 and 2011 Ukrainian members had stated that their involvement in Femen had caused their families to become alienated from them. Some Femen members, including Inna Shevchenko, have also been subject to threats, kidnapping, beating and other intimidation.
Criminal cases against the organizationEdit
Several criminal cases have been opened against the organization in Ukraine on charges of "hooliganism" and "desecration of state symbols", among others, and the group has been fined. In addition, most Femen activists are detained by the police after protesting; in one case, the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus arrested Femen activists, "threatening them with knives and cutting their hair." According to Femen, after the early 2010 election of President Viktor Yanukovych, the Security Service of Ukraine attempted to intimidate the Femen activists.
The Ukrainian police opened a criminal case against Femen when during its 27 August 2013 raid in the movement's Kiev office it purportedly found a TT pistol and a grenade. Femen stated that these items were planted there by the Ukrainian police as part of a conspiracy by the Russian and Ukrainian secret services to prosecute the movement, which the police denied.[nb 3] On 30 August 2013, Femen activist Yana Zhdanova, Anna Hutsol and Alexandra Shevchenko were called in for questioning; instead (according to a Femen statement), "fearing for their lives and freedom the activists escaped from Ukraine to Europe to continue Femen activities" (also in Ukraine [as Hutsol had stated three days before she left Ukraine]). The Kiev office became a (not Femen-affiliated) bookstore on 23 October 2013. By early March, Hutsol said that although the regime that had criminally probed them had fallen, it was "too risky to return to Ukraine"; in a February 2014 interview, Hutsol also stated that Femen activists who had stayed in Ukraine had helped during the Euromaidan protests that ultimately toppled this regime. Femen actions did recur in Kiev in the summer of 2014.
Femen protests have also been said to result in destruction of public property.
Femen France is the French branch of Femen. After cutting down a crucifix near Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev in August 2012, Inna Shevchenko left the country and went to Paris to set up Femen France, a training center for activists. The international training center opened on 18 September 2012.
As of early January 2013, the organization consisted of 30 local activists. The only Ukrainians regularly present were Oksana Shachko and Inna Shevchenko. On 6 March 2013, Femen activists, together with French writer Galia Ackerman, released their first book, Femen. The book was published by Calmann-Lévy.
The international training center opened on 18 September 2012. 15 activists marched topless from the metro station Château Rouge to the Lavoir Moderne Parisien, where their new headquarters are located, and organized a press conference there.
On 3 October 2012, French activists Éloïse Bouton, Elvire Duvelle-Charles, Miyabi K., Julia Javel, Jenny Bah, Nathalie Vignes and Inna Shevchenko protested against rape by standing topless in front of the Venus de Milo statue in the Louvre Museum. The Femen activists shouted, "We have hands to stop rape". They stated they chose the Venus de Milo because it has no arms, arguing this best symbolizes a woman’s helplessness and vulnerability. This protest followed an incident in Tunisia where a woman faced charges of indecency after she said she was raped by police officers.
On 15 October 2012, eight topless activists protested in front of the French Ministry of Justice at the Place Vendôme in Paris in response to the verdict in the trial of fourteen men for the gang rape of teenage girls. After a four-week trial in Fontenay-sous-Bois near Paris, four of the accused were found guilty of taking part in gang rapes, ten were acquitted. The sentences were far lighter than those recommended by the state prosecutor, who had called for prison sentences of five to seven years for eight of the men. The protesters accused the French authorities of tolerating the rape of minors.
Femen activists held protests in front of Great Mosque of Paris on 3 April 2013, to demand the release of Amina Tyler, a Femen activist in Tunisia. They also burned the Salafist flag. In September 2015 two topless Femen activists jumped onto the stage of a conservative Muslim conference in Paris.
Since late 2011 Femen has held rallies outside Ukraine. In late April 2011, the organization said it was setting up international branches in Warsaw, Zürich, Rome, Tel Aviv, and Rio de Janeiro. A demonstration by a group called RU Femen in the Russian capital, Moscow, in late April 2011 was immediately denounced as a fake offspring of Femen. Femen accused the Russian political party United Russia of having set up RU Femen. Early 2013 Femen said that it had members in Brazil, Germany, the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Bulgaria, and Tunisia.
On 23 January 2013 a third national Femen-group was opened officially when Alexandra Shevchenko launched Femen in Germany proposing to train and lead the group from Berlin and Hamburg bases. The German branch of Femen was founded by Zana Ramadani. A notable action that the group took was amid the opening of the Barbie Dream House in Berlin's Alexanderplatz. Right before the pink plastic building opened, a Femen member emerged topless from a model high-heel shoe burning a Barbie doll, in protest of what was widely seen as giving girls an unrealistic view of life. The Femen member had written on her chest LIFE IN PLASTIC IS NOT FANTASTIC.
June 2014 Femen opened a branch in Israel with 15 women. Femen notes, "our numbers are growing from week to week." The members, who range in age from 17 to 30, come from all over the country.
Goals and stancesEdit
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Femen describes its stance as "radical feminism", and says that it is "fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations - sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion". Femen has pledged to fight the sex industry and marriage agencies, the Church and its pro-life beliefs and patriarchal society, as well as those who oppose gay marriage. Femen has expressed opposition against Islamism, "Sharia law" and spoken against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). On its official website Femen states: "Femen – is sextremism serving to protect women's rights, democracy watchdogs attacking patriarchy, in all its forms: the dictatorship, the church, the sex industry".
Femen has expressed both support for and opposition against various public figures and organizations; for example, the group lauded Pussy Riot and collaborated with Aliaa Elmahdy. In 2011 the group has stated it has enjoyed limited success in pushing its agenda. It was also criticized for failure "to provide much insight into what the concrete goals [of the organization] are".
Founder Anna Hutsol is adamantly opposed to legalizing prostitution in Ukraine and advocates for criminalization of prostitution abroad. In late May 2009, Femen proposed the introduction of criminal responsibility for the use of sex industry services. Femen protested against what they argued were moves being made by the Ukrainian government to legalize prostitution during the EURO 2012 championships. The group asked UEFA and the Ukrainian government to create a social program devoted to the problem of sex tourism and prostitution in Ukraine; to inform football fans that prostitution is illegal in Ukraine; and to take additional steps to fight against prostitution and sex tourism.[nb 5]
Despite Femen's objection to the sex industry, the group has fought against the prosecution of Anastasia Grishay by Ukrainian authorities (initiated by a prominent Communist member of parliament) on grounds of her involvement in pornography.
According to (founder) Hutsol "The Femen movement stands for women-related policies, not women in politics". FEMEN's leadership has very low expectations of all current mainstream Ukrainian politicians. When asked (in April 2013) if she considered German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the enemy" Alexandra Shevchenko replied: "In so far as she shakes the hand of the dictator, yes; like Yulia Tymoshenko and like Margaret Thatcher before them, she has hardly spoken out for women's rights".
Femen protest actions have also taken place against alleged anti-Ukrainian policies by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian President and Government of Russia. It also demanded "independence for the Ukrainian church".
In the past (namely 2012) Femen had stated that its goals were "to develop leadership, intellectual and moral qualities of young women in Ukraine" and "to build up the image of Ukraine, [a] country with great opportunities for women". But today its official website makes no mention of goals aimed at Ukrainian woman in particular (nor from other countries). In 2010 had stated the goals of the organization where "to shake women in Ukraine, making them socially active; to organize in 2017 a women's revolution."
In December 2012 Femen "warned" the European Union "to stop immediately political, economic and cultural contacts with Gazprom-Kremlin's dictatorship"; because "dependence on Nord Stream will bring Europe to an economic collapse and the abolition of visas requirements for Russians threatens Europe with a cultural Armageddon". An 8 April 2013 "topless ambush" of Russian President Vladimir Putin (accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel) at the Hanover trade fair was described by Alexandra Shevchenko as "non-violent women protesting against the most dangerous dictator in the world, it got great coverage and will hopefully inspire people in Russia as well as helping us to recruit new members".
Protests against religious institutionsEdit
Examples of Femen protests against religious institutions are:
- In November 2011, Femen activist Alexandra Shevchenko started stripping and waving a banner stating "Freedom for women" after Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday sermon at Saint Peter's Square at the Holy See. Shevchenko and her associates were immediately captured by the Italian Police.
- In April 2012, five Femen activists protested legislation that would halt abortions in Ukraine by staging a pro-choice demonstration at the belfry of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, ringing the church bells while doing so. They were detained by police.
- On 26 July 2012, a topless Femen activist, Yana Zhdanova, attacked the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus', Kirill I of Moscow, while he was visiting Ukraine. Zhdanova had the words "Kill Kirill" painted on her back and screamed "Get Out!" to the Orthodox Christian leader. She was arrested for fifteen days for her actions.
- The organization staged a topless protest at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London in opposition to "bloody Islamist regimes", which they accuse the IOC of supporting. The protest included women in the clothing of Muslim men as well as signs stating "No Sharia".
- On 17 August 2012, Inna Shevchenko and two other Femen activists chainsawed down a large wooden Christian crucifix that was dedicated to Uniate Christian victims of antireligious Stalinist purges, near Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev in support for the Russian group Pussy Riot. (Three members of Pussy Riot were to be sentenced by a Russian court later that day.)[nb 6] The action attracted overwhelmingly negative responses. A criminal case was opened against Femen under "Part 2 of Article 296 (hooliganism) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine". Femen stated that after the incident, special forces troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs organized a blockade around FEMEN's headquarters in Kiev. On 18 August 2012 a new Christian cross was erected at the same site.
- In January 2013 four Ukrainian Femen activists protested topless in favour of LGBT adoption at the Pope's weekly address in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.
- Femen activists burned the Salafist flag in front of the Great Mosque of Paris on 3 April 2013, as part of a solidarity protest with Amina Tyler.
- On 12 September 2015, two Femen protesters attending the conference as Arabs, ripped their cloaks on stage and went topless at a controversial conference near Paris on the role of Muslim women. After being taken off stage by security, several men rushed the stage and began beating one of the protestors.
Amina Tyler caseEdit
Amina Tyler (real name Amina Sboui), a Tunisian Femen activist, was arrested on 19 May 2013 in Tunis. International protests followed for her release from detention. On 12 June 2013 a Tunisian judge convicted two French Femen members and one German Femen member after they were charged with public indecency while protesting for the release of Tyler. Pauline Hillier, Marguerite Stern and Josephine Markmann were released on 26 June 2013 after a Tunisian court lifted their prison sentence.
Amina Tyler was acquitted for contempt and defamation on 29 July 2013; but she remained jailed pending trial on a separate charge of desecrating a cemetery.
Femen had staged protests in front of the Grand Mosque of Paris burning a Tawhid flag. Amina upon release in August 2013 from detention in a Tunisian jail declared she was leaving the group in protest adding that she thought FEMEN's actions in Paris were disrespectful to the Muslim world and because she saw a lack of financial transparency in the organization.
Cultural and political imageEdit
The group has been widely covered in the media, including by CNN, BBC News, Der Spiegel, Die Welt, Independent.ie, France 24, RT, Euronews, the Kyiv Post, USA Today, Reuters, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera and The Wall Street Journal.
Critics have stated Femen members are more interested in self-promotion than real reform, and that their antics are often tacky and undermine the cause of their protests. According to Ukrainian gender studies expert Tetyana Bureychak, most Ukrainian women are unimpressed by Femen. Ukrainian sociologist Oleh Demkiv has spoken out against the controversial nature of FEMEN's protests and in July 2011 he stated they "unfortunately, do not enjoy popular support, or lead to changes in Ukraine's consciousness". In February 2013 Joanna Rohozinska (from National Endowment for Democracy) stated "there is little evidence of any of Femen's protests having significant impact" and she called FEMEN's decision to set up branches in outside Ukraine "as disingenuous at best and, frankly, somewhat cowardly". Positive remarks in Ukraine about Femen came from Maria Mayerchyk (of Lviv University), who has spoken about Femen, saying that they are a "positive, radical and important phenomenon that is able to raise social issues", and Larysa Kobelianska (UN-led women's rights program) said the group has succeeded in attracting public attention to women's problems, even if by questionable means.
The group is seen more positively abroad. Naomi Westland wrote that "Western countries are more accustomed than those in the Eastern Hemisphere to seeing naked or semi-naked bodies in the media and on the streets. But in countries where nudity is taboo, the protests have more profound impact." Jeffrey Tayler noted: "Femen originated in Ukraine, born of young women who grew up without exposure to the West's culture of political correctness and who have scant respect for it; from their country's Soviet past, they know how deleterious the stifling of free speech can be. Now that they have moved to the West, Femen has courageously broken rules and enlivened the debate over religion's role in our world." Femen received a positive reception after opening their location in Paris. Femen has been criticized by Chitra Nagarajan for "its obsession with nudity that feeds a racist colonial feminism."
In September 2013 Femen came under heavy criticism when the Australian documentary film-maker Kitty Green exposed a man named Victor Svyatski as the mastermind behind the group. Svyatski was previously known as (only) a "consultant" to the movement. In the documentary Ukraine Is Not a Brothel Svyatski states he is the brain behind the group, saying that the girls would not have been able to start Femen without him, which is confirmed by some of the female Femen activists. In the documentary, Svyatski is heard intensively instructing the Femen women how to perform their protests and bullying them when not all goes according to plan. Activist Inna Shevchenko admits later in the documentary that the patriarchal system runs so deep in Ukrainian women, it was probably indeed not possible to start Femen without Svyatski, but is also clear that this is not something that can continue much longer. Shevchenko explains that Svyatski will have to go, even if he is unwilling to do so. Femen received much criticism after this exposure, but film-maker Green stated that the press overemphasized Svyatski's role, not including that he indeed was no longer involved with Femen after the release of the film.
Femen activists earn funding through the sale of products bearing the Femen logo. Femen also receives donations from individuals like Helmut Geier (also known as DJ under the alias DJ Hell), German businesswoman Beate Schober (who is currently residing in Ukraine), the American businessman Jed Sunden (founder of Ukrainian KP Media and former owner of Kyiv Post newspaper) and Ukrainian Canadians.
In March 2012 Ukrainian magazine Focus said that Femen activists receive royalties for foreign interviews and in the tabloids. In the magazine Anna Hutsol confirmed that a rally in Istanbul was sponsored by a Turkish company producing underwear.
A Ukrainian 1+1 journalist, who claimed (in September 2012) to have infiltrated the organisation, says that its office in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, costs the movement over $2,500 per month, on top of which each member’s salary was roughly $1,000 per month.
- Nos seins, nos armes ! (Our breasts, our weapons!), documentary film (1hour 10 mins), written and directed by Caroline Fourest and Nadia El Fani, produced by Nilaya Productions, aired on France 2 on 5 March 2013.
- Everyday Rebellion, documentary film (1hour 58 mins), written and directed by the Riahi Brothers Arash T. Riahi and Arman Riahi, Austria / Switzerland / Germany, 2013, world premiere at Copenhagen International Documentary Festival on 13 November 2013.
- Ukraine Is Not a Brothel
Notes and referencesEdit
- On 19 December 2011 FEMEN performed a topless protest against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko outside the KGB Headquarters in Minsk, mocking Lukashenko's recognizable haircut and moustache. Afterwards, according to FEMEN, the three protesters Inna Shevchenko, Oksana Shachko and Aleksandra Nemchinova were abducted by the Belarus authorities and taken to a remote forest blindfolded, doused with oil, forced to strip and then threatened with being set on fire, before having their hair violently cut with knives and being abandoned in the snow half-naked.
- Early September 2013 Inna Shevchenko stated that FEMEN had "broke free" of Sviatsky.
- On 28 August 2013 a Kiev police spokesperson stated no one in the group had been charged but the criminal probe into illegal possession of weapons by the group continued and the women could be called in for further questioning.
- The reason given on its Facebook page was: "disagreement about the internal organization within the international movement Femen".
- As a counter-act Polish prostitutes held their own nude demonstration (in masks) with the catchphrase "Femen! Get the fuck out of our business".
- The desecration of the cross was repudiated by Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, who said "Their surprise displays and protests against authoritarianism are similar to us, but we look at feminism differently, especially the form of speech. We wouldn't take our clothes off, and will not. Their latest action, the sawing of the cross, does not create a feeling of solidarity, unfortunately."
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Court dismisses 1 charge against Tunisian feminist, TimesDaily (29 July 2013)
Tunisian Activist Acquitted Amid Growing Unrest, Voice of America (29 July 2013) Archived 5 November 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Tayler, Jeffrey (13 March 2013). "The Woman Behind Femen's Topless Protest Movement". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Ukraine's Femen:Topless protests 'help feminist cause', BBC News (23 October 2012)
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- [dead link]
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- Connolly, Kate (12 April 2013). "Femen activist tells how protest against Putin and Merkel was planned". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2013-11-12.
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FEMEN says their male activist brutally beaten up by security services, Interfax-Ukraine (25 July 2013)
Fined Femen activists planned protest against Putin, Ukrinform (29 July 2013)
State Leaders, Orthodox Clergy Mark Kievan Rus Anniversary, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (27 July 2013)
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- (in Ukrainian) У колишньому офісі Femen відкрили книжкову крамницю In the former office Femen opened a bookstore, Ukrayinska Pravda (23 October 2013)
- (in Ukrainian) Активістки Femen втекли з України Femen activists fled from Ukraine, Ukrayinska Pravda (31 August 2013)
- (in Ukrainian) Femen закриє офіс в Україні, але діяльність не припинить Femen closes office in Ukraine, however, the activities do not stop, Ukrayinska Pravda (27 August 2013)
- "FEMEN". Retrieved 29 September 2016.
- "Девушки хотят. Интервью с Анной Гуцол, лидером FEMEN", 15 July 2010, Анастасия Рингис, Focus (Ukrainian magazine) website (retrieved 6 February 2013) (in Russian)
- Femen in Paris: Ukraine's Topless Warriors Move West, The Atlantic (2 January 2013)
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- (in Russian) Maria Dmitrieva, Радикальный эксгибиционизм Archived 7 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine. ("Radical Exhibitionism"); first published on the website Private Correspondent
- (in Russian) Игры на раздевание. Femen завоевывает симпатии мужчин и теряет поддержку феминисток "Games on the strip. Femen winning the sympathies of men and losing the support of feminists", Focus (27 March 2012)
- (in Russian) Мужественный протест (The courageous protest), Lenta.Ru (15 February 2012)
- (in Ukrainian) Information on the registration of electoral lists of candidates, Central Election Commission of Ukraine
(in Ukrainian) Results of voting in single constituencies in 2012 Archived 27 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine. & Nation-wide list, Central Election Commission of Ukraine Archived 26 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
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- Police seize TT pistol and grenade in Kyiv office of Femen women’s rights group, Interfax-Ukraine (28 August 2013)
- Femen moves out of 'bugged' Kiev office, News24 (28 August 2013)
- Femen accuses Kiev police of planting guns during raid, The Guardian (27 August 2013)
- FEMEN women’s rights group protests outside Ukrainian embassies in Europe following search of Kyiv office, Interfax-Ukraine (29 August 2013)
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