Members of the punk group Pussy Riot, including
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in the blue balaclava and
Maria Alekhina in the pink balaclava, are attacked
by Cossack militia in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday,
Feb. 19, 2014. Associated Press
MOSCOW—A group of uniformed Cossacks attacked members of the Russian punk group
Pussy Riot with horse whips in the center of Sochi on Wednesday as the group began
an anti-Kremlin protest near the Olympic Games.
Maria Alyokhina told The Wall Street Journal in a phone interview Wednesday that
she and other members of Pussy Riot and four others who were filming them were
beaten by a group of 15 to 20 Cossacks and 10 to 15 plainclothes policemen as the
group began to sing an anti-Kremlin protest song.
Warning: Graphic footage. Pussy Riot was attacked during a performance in Sochi but kept rocking against Putin, and Ukraine violence shows the gulf between the U.S. and Russia. The Foreign Bureau follows the top world stories of the day. Photo: AP
Members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot were attacked by Cossacks in Sochi as they attempted to perform a protest song underneath a banner for the Winter Olympics. Via The Foreign Bureau, WSJ's global news update. Photo: AP
"A few seconds into the song they began
to beat us with batons and pepper spray us.
We didn't even get through the first verse
of the song," she said.
Ms. Alyokhina posted a picture of her badly
cut finger as well as picture of another activist
with a bloodied face on her Twitter account
following the encounter. Photographs taken
by journalists at the scene showed men
brandishing whips and yanking the masks
off the members of the group.
A local police spokesman said several Cossacks
—Russian traditionalists who often function
as auxiliary police—are in Sochi for the Games
but he wasn't aware of the alleged attack
on the band. He said the Cossacks are
usually accompanied by the local police
when on duty, but "they spend the rest
of their time as regular, ordinary citizens."
The Cossacks couldn't be reached for comment.
Two members of Pussy Riot were detained
by police for several hours in Sochi on
Tuesday in what they called an attempt
to prevent them form carrying out their protest.
In the run-up to the Olympics in Sochi,
Russia came under heavy criticism
internationally for a recently passed
law limiting gay rights, as well as
alleged environmental abuses and
corruption, and officials had braced
for protests, although few have materialized.
Pussy Riot gained international attention
in February 2012 when four members of
group—wearing colorful balaclava masks
and tube dresses—stormed into Moscow's
Christ the Saviour Cathedral and acted out
a performance critical of the Kremlin in front
of stunned parishioners, as a wave of protests
swept through the city. The two members who
 organized a protest in Sochi were jailed for
nearly two years for the Moscow performance
but were released early in December as part
of an amnesty.