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Ukraine quartet go topless in visa protest

New Delhi, Jan. 18: Four young Ukrainian women braved sub-zero temperatures today to go topless and climb the balcony of the Indian envoy’s residence in Kiev with placards pronouncing “Ukraine is not a bordello” and “We are not prostitutes”.

The quartet from Femen, a group famous for topless protests against everything from sex tourism to Silvio Berlusconi’s peccadilloes, were protesting the alleged tightening of visa rules by the Indian mission in Kiev for Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group.

The women cited an Indian newspaper report published last week as proof that the mission had branded all Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group as prostitutes.

The report said the ministry of external affairs (MEA) had instructed its missions in the central Asian republics, along with Russia and Ukraine, to re-examine the visa applications of women aged between 15 and 40 and reject those in which their reasons for visiting India sounded unconvincing.

The report suggested it was being done to keep sex workers from these countries from entering India, particularly with elections in five states round the corner. Both the MEA and the Indian mission in Ukraine have since contested the claim.

A senior MEA official said the report was “weird, if not mischievous and misplaced”.

“No such instructions have been issued. Visa officials are continuing to use their judgement in the issuance of visas, but there is no discrimination,” the official said, adding such restrictions would make every man a potential terrorist and every woman a potential sex worker.

Officials in Delhi said the Indian ambassador to Ukraine, Rajiv K. Chander, was not at his residence when the four women from Femen arrived in Indian attire and stripped to their waists before using a ladder to reach the second-floor balcony.

The women tied a banner in English to the balcony that declared: “We are not prostitutes”. They also carried placards in English and Russian that said “Delhi, close your brothels” and “We demand apologies”.

Police detained the four women, said to be in their late teens and early twenties, after they climbed down from the balcony. Other protesters, all fully clothed, waved the Tricolour and knocked on the doors and windows of the ambassador’s residence until they were detained by guards and taken away by police.

Femen’s blog accuses India of insulting the women of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan. “Indian prostitution is directly conducted with impunity of the country’s criminal business. Blaming it on women is a shame for the heirs of such a rich and old culture,” it says.

Femen, founded in 2008 by Anna Hutsol, comprises some two dozen members who go topless during protests. There are 300 other members, including men, who join these protests without stripping.

Most Femen members are university students in the 18-20 age group. Some topless protests have been in European cities, including the Vatican. In 2010, one Femen protester exposed her buttocks outside a locked toilet in Kiev to protest the lack of public toilets in the Ukranian capital.

Last December, three Femen activists protesting in Minsk against Belarus’ long-ruling President were allegedly kidnapped by secret service officers. The women later claimed the officers threatened them with knives, cut their hair and left them naked in the woods. On January 16, Ukraine’s ministry of justice refused to register Femen as an official political movement, claiming its position was extremist.

For the Indian mission, today’s topless protest at the ambassador’s residence came as a surprise because a statement denying the report had already been issued.

The mission had clarified a couple of days back that “no discrimination” was being practised against Ukrainian women applying for visas to travel to India. “The number of tourist visas issued by our mission in Kiev to Ukrainians has gone up in the last few months. This is evidence that we have not practised any such discrimination,” said an MEA official.

While the MEA has been trying hard to scotch the rumours, there is truth to the influx of sex workers from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan.

Sources in Delhi police said more than 3,000 women from these countries were staying in the capital to work as sex workers. “These girls are in demand,” an officer said.


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