Their message - "Ukraine is no whorehouse". Their medium - anything from throwing cakes at sexists, challenging male tourists in the street, and getting naked in order to disrupt public ceremonies. Meet Kiev's controversial anti-prostitution activists.
The cost of living in Kiev is not cheap - not much less than in many western European capitals. And yet the average income, according to government statistics, is 300 euros a month. Coupled with lax visa laws for travellers, the conditions have led to the country's sex tourism industry becoming what is thought to be the biggest in Europe. It's no secret; websites like the one that calls itself "Ukraine's number one escort agency" - describe girls by exactly what they'll do in the bedroom, along with a list of prices. "Our escort Ukraine girls are open for all kinds of sex", they boast. Prostitution is supposed to be illegal.
FEMEN, the group of activists in question, says that the government is doing nothing to stop the practice. Which is why they're taking such drastic measures to bring attention to it. But are they the right ones? Give your opinion.
FEMEN demonstrating in Kiev
“People wouldn’t pay attention to us if it weren’t for the way we dress”
Anna Hutsol founded and has been running FEMEN since 2008.
I set up FEMEN because I realised that there was a lack of women activists in our society; Ukraine is male-oriented and women take a passive role.
In comparison with neighbouring countries, we have the most favourable conditions for sex tourism: free visa entry (for EU and the USA), well developed infrastructure, cheap prices (flights, hotels etc). Plus there's a myth abroad that Ukrainian women are easy, sexy, and like foreigners. But it's also because the government doesn't want to deal with the issue - the sex industry goes unpunished by the law. The fine for getting paid for sex is around five euros. And for pimping, you face a jail sentence of three to eight years. But in practice the pimps don't go to jail because they bribe the police.
Officially there are 12,000 prostitutes in Ukraine, but there are many more in reality; they've just never been taken to the police and therefore go uncounted for. What's most frightening is that 70% of those recorded are under 18 years old.
Here at FEMEN we have developed our own unique way of civil self-expression based on creativity, courage, humour, efficiency and shock. People wouldn't pay attention to the serious problems we tackle if it weren't for the way we dress. We are not afraid to go topless or wear bikinis if it serves a purpose."
“Sometimes we fight over foreign clients”
Iryna (not her real name) is a sex worker from Kiev. She prefers to remain anonymous.
I've been working in the escort service for three years now. I started working in my first year at uni. It was not an escort service to be exact - it was originally a modelling agency. Then it changed owners and we were asked to provide additional services. Half of the girls left but I had nowhere to go. So I stayed. And I'm still here.
It costs around 70 euros per hour for a typical date. Sex is almost always included, at least with my agency. We can't turn anyone away now with the crisis.
Foreigners pay better. Plus you don't have to worry about losing your life. Sometimes we fight over foreign clients. Around 60% are from abroad. In the best cases they'll be German or French and in the worst, Arab or Turkish. Clients from Western Europe are the nicest. Clients from Poland and other former Soviet countries, they're similar to Ukrainians - are often bastards.
I don't know why they come here. They say Ukrainian girls are beautiful. I don't know whether we should close down the sex industry. But I do know that I haven't seen any happy prostitute."
Dramatic action in Kiev
Boycotting Ukraine Independence Day celebrations August 24, 2009.
One of the girls dresses as the Ukrainian symbol of freedom - the Ukrainian Marianne, August 24, 2009.
The girls patrol Kiev's main road, Khreshchatyk Street, challenging men about what they think of them. "Foreign tourists and visitors to our country! Many of your compatriots think of us as prostitutes. Thank you for thinking differently!"
Group member Alexandra throws a cream cake at writer Oles Buzina, known for his book "Ladies, back to the harems", and for his open stance against the right for a woman to say no to sex. April 2009.
Anna with Helmut Geier (DJ Hell), FEMEN supporter from Germany, at a demonstration in Kiev's central square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, on May 23, 2009.
One of the performances at the May 23 demonstration.
All photos posted on FEMEN's MySpace page.