the extraordinary courage of Inna Shevchenko and the Ukrainian Femen group in Paris

Ukrainian activist Inna Shevchenko, from the topless women's rights group Femen, poses in Paris

Inna Shevchenko, warrior.

Way back in 2013, on March 7th, 2013, to be exact (9 years ago), I posted this blog entry below on the Ukrainian feminist group, Femen, based in Paris. Femen still exists today in Paris, but without its leader, Inna Shevchenko. Today, at 31, Ms. Shevchenko is still very active in her cause(s). Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we see her often on French television. France granted her political refugee status in April 2013.

In December 2011, while participating in a demonstration against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus), she and two other Femen members were kidnapped in Minsk, its capital, and interrogated, stripped naked and beaten by Belarussian agents who also poured gasoline on them and threatened to set them on fire. They were finally released in the middle of a forest.

Very active and followed on social networks, the feminist activist took a stand against the Russian invasion of her native country. In a magazine column, she describes Vladimir Putin as a “serial aggressor”, “a little man with gigantic ambitions, thirsty for abuse”.

She also denounces the cowardly West which “allowed Putin to implement his diabolical plan”. She recalls that the European Union “treated Russia as a trading partner until the very last day”.

While her relatives are still in Ukraine, she regularly salutes the courage of her compatriots. “We will teach our daughters and sons that courageously opposing evil and standing up for what is right, despite the high cost, is the only way to secure peace. After all, if men make war, it is also up to women to win it.” she concludes in her op-ed.

Here’s my blog post from March 2013 (still relevant today) –

It is in Paris where the training center of this extraordinary activist group that calls itself Femen is located.

Last week on this blog I posted the news of Stéphane Hessel’s death, a dissident who encouraged citizens to stand up and express outrage over all forms of injustice. I wonder what he would’ve thought of this all-female militant group who do exactly that.


The Femen movement was created in the Ukraine in 2008 to protest against sex tourism, prostitution and the exploitation of women in the former Soviet state. Inna Shevchenko is the feminist crusader in charge of the Paris boot camp.  Daughter of an army officer, she took off her top and joined the Kiev protests. Ukraine is not a Brothel was their slogan.  As a consequence, she lost her job as a press officer. She then fled her country after a well-publicized stunt in which she wielded a chainsaw and chopped down a large wooden Orthodox cross in support of the jailed Russian feminists, Pussy Riot.

Femen has set up camp in Paris’s poor and ethnically mixed Goutte d’Or district.

“The decision to bring the fight to France and open a training centre was a French initiative, an invitation from French feminists who sent us a message saying they needed us,” said Inna.  “Before then we thought of France as a first world and already feminist country that didn’t really need us. Since arriving, I have met many Frenchwomen and they say they need to start the fight again. We are bringing a new face, new blood, a new fight to feminism.”


Inna Shevchenko, topless warrior.

Is it not contradictory, a journalist asked her, that the new feminists are using nakedness to rail against female exploitation?

“Ah, but we have a different idea; we are talking about peaceful war, peaceful terrorism,” Inna said. “We are taking off our clothes so people can see that we have no weapons except our bodies. It’s a powerful way to fight in a man’s world. We live with men’s domination and this is the only way to provoke them, the only way to get attention.”

Activists from the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN

“We don’t hide our bodies, we don’t hide our faces, we confront our enemies face to face. We look them in the eyes and we have to be well prepared physically for that.”

There was, she explained patiently, no contradiction in going topless or naked to protest against what they view as the three main evils of a global “patriarchal society”: sexual exploitation, dictatorship and religion. Protesting naked, as Femen’s slogans insist, is liberté, a reappropriation of their own bodies as opposed to pornography or snatched photographs which are exploitation.


On a less intellectual level, taking their clothes off ensures a lot of publicity.

She added: “Believe me, it is really difficult for me to take my clothes off and stand in a public place. But this is the fight, and the fight is never easy.”


Oh, look…an early Femen painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1830.  It’s called Liberty Leading the People. A woman personifying Liberty holds the flag of the French Revolution in one hand while brandishing a bayonette with the other.


On a personal note, I’m blown away by the courageous audacity of these young women. I admire them. But I’m also saddened because as a child during the Women’s Liberation Movement in North America, I have to ask: What happened? Or rather, what didn’t happen? Why, four decades later, are we still engaged in battle? I thought we had abolished sexism, inequality and the rest. It’s all too clear that women the world over must keep affirming, keep defining and keep defending the cause in the face of subjugating forces that try to beat us down.  We must be ever-vigilant.

Today Femen protests against all forms of injustice.  Their slogans are concise:

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:  Gangster party in Davos. Poor because of you.

Better bare than burka.

Fashion fascism (against anorexia)

Pope Benedict XVI:  Game over.

My body, my rules.

FEMEN members demonstrate at the congress centrum

Women of the world, unite.

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