Oksana Shachko, one of the founding members of feminist protest group FEMEN, was found dead in her apartment in Paris early Monday, July 23rd.
Family and friends are awaiting an official police report.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. More Than One of Oksana’s Friends Say She Took Her Own Life
In an interview with Ukrayinska Pravda, Anna Hutsol, another one of FEMEN’s founders, shared that Oksana took her own life. Friends and family are waiting for an official police report.
A post on the group’s website described her as “fearless and vulnerable.”
“The most fearless and vulnerable Oksana Shachko has left us. We mourn together with her relatives and friends and wait for the official version from the police.”
“At this moment it is known, that yesterday, July 23, Oksana’s body was found in her apartment in Paris.”
FEMEN described Oksana as “one of the heroines of our time.”
“She will be remembered as a real fighter. She’s someone who fought against injustice, fought for equality, fought for herself and for all women as a hero.”
According to UNIAN, Oksana left a suicide note in English, allegedly addressing a group of Paris-based artists with whom she closely communicated.
UNIAN reported the note read: “You are all fake,” mirroring a picture she posted to her Instagram account just two days prior.
The French police took a statement from one of Oksana’s friends, who then shared the statement to her social media account.
“Oksana had many exhibitions, press attention, rich friends. Over the past 2 years, she tried to commit suicide twice. Unfortunately, the third attempt was successful. Very hard. Ksiukha, we love you. We all this time were close, not feykovye, real. The fuck. Despair and impotence. Sorry.”
2. The FEMEN Movement, Founded in Kiev in 2008, Has Won Notoriety in Europe For Its Protests
Anna Hutsol and Oksana Shachko founded FEMEN with the backing of mastermind Victor Svyatski, who considers himself the “patriarch in an organization against patriarchy.”
FEMEN is a Ukrainian “radical feminist activist group” set on protecting women’s rights. Founded in Kiev in 2008, it’s won notoriety in Europe for its protests against sex tourism, homophobia and religious institutions.
The mission statement on FEMEN’s website reads: In the beginning, there was the body, feeling of the woman’s body, feeling of joy because it is so light and free. Then there was injustice, so sharp that you feel it with your body. It immobilizes the body, hinders its movements, and then you find yourself your body’s hostage. And so you turn your body against this injustice, mobilizing every body’s cell to struggle against the patriarchy and humiliation. You tell the world: Our God is a Woman! Our Mission is Protest! Our Weapon our bare breasts!
FEMEN now has chapters in Brazil, Tunisia, France, Germany and the United States. FEMEN members have labeled their tactic “sextremism,” which takes the shock response to their naked bodies and turns it into an opportunity to draw attention to the message, which is rooted in the truth that women are not objects.
FEMEN’s slogan for a long time was “I came, I stripped, I won.” It drew attention around the world for its viral bare-breasted rallies against sexism, and for the past few years, has been focused on tearing down authoritarianism and racism. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been a main target, alongside France’s far-right National Front party.
3. Oksana Was One of Three Woman ‘Kidnapped’ by The KGB And Forced to Strip Naked in a Forest
According to The Evening Standard, In 2011, FEMEN reported that Oksana was one of three of its members “kidnapped” by KGB agents.
Agents kidnapped the three women while they were protesting outside the Belarussian KGB security offices.
“They were blindfolded and driven around in a bus all night,” FEMEN said in its statement.
“They were taken into the woods, had oil poured on them, and were forced to take their clothes off.” The agents threatened to light the women on fire if they didn’t stop their protests.
When the women didn’t comply, “the agents threatened them with a knife which they later used to cut off their hair,” FEMEN said.
Oksana and the other two activists were left bound up and beaten, but eventually made it out of the woods and back home because of help from the villagers of Beki. “We are calling on everyone who can help take and hide the activists until employees of the Ukrainian embassy in Belarus arrive,” wrote FEMEN.
The KGB declined to comment on FEMEN’s statement. According to FEMEN’s lawyer, Oksana was beaten so badly she had to be hospitalized.
4. Oksana Was Granted Political Refugee Status in 2013 When She Left FEMEN to Become a Painter
Oksana had been living in Paris since 2013, where she sought refuge after being harmed so many times as an activist. The government granted her political refugee status and she left the frontlines of FEMEN to start working as a painter.
In 2016, Oksana had her first solo exhibition, which featured Orthodox icons through a feminist, political lens. Her activism never ended. She sought more peaceful means of expressing the things she believed in.
Here is some of her most recent work:
Around the time of her death, Oksana was working on an exhibit she called Iconoclast.
Where she took Orthodox icons, painted them traditionally, and added details that confronted religious dogma with feminist, political and humanist messages.
5. FEMEN Protests Interrupted Trump's Polling Site During The 2016 Presidental Race
On November 8th, 2016 (the day Trump would find out if he’d become president of the United States) two FEMEN members traveled to Midtown East polling site in Manhattan, ready to protest Trump’s candidacy.
Before he showed, the two women removed their shirts to reveal painted slogans which read: “Trump, grab your balls” and “Hate out of my polls.”
They had “FEMEN USA” painted on their backs. According to The Cut, the women were chanting “Grab your balls! Off of my boobs!”
According to NBC New York, the two activists were identified as Neda Topaloski, a women’s rights activist from Quebec, and Jordan Robson of Spokane, Washington. They were escorted out of the building before Trump arrived to cast his vote.
Topaloski defended her right to protest in an interview with Channel 4 New York after the two were thrown out.
“We see women objectified all the time…what we do is exactly the opposite — using our bodies to express our own ideas,” Topaloski said.
“This is how we defend our values of freedom and equality, by writing them on our body so our bodies do not oppose the message, they are the very message of us defending our freedom of expression.”
This is a developing story