Published January 23, 2013
MOSCOW – The imprisoned members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk band say they feel no regrets about the irreverent "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral that landed them behind bars for two years.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina offered a vivid, but stoic, description of their harsh prison conditions in interviews published Wednesday in the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper. They said they don't expect clemency from authorities.
Tolokonnikova, who works at a sewing machine like most female prisoners in Russia's prison colonies, was quoted by the paper as saying she has had her fingers punctured by the needle but has picked up speed and experience and can now meet her quota of making lining for 320 jackets a day.
Like other prisoners, she bathes once a week and uses cold water to wash the rest of the week.
"I am not paying much attention to living conditions," she said in an interview filmed last month. "I'm ascetic, and living conditions matter little for me."
Tolokonnikova said she meditates to prevent her spirit from being dulled by the monotonous labor. She added that the main thing she misses at her prison colony is the ability to read freely; prison conditions leave little room for reading the Bible and philosophy books.
Three members of Pussy Riot were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in August after they raucously prayed to the Virgin Mary for the deliverance from Putin at Christ the Savior Cathedral. One of them, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was later released on appeal, but Tolokonnikova and Alekhina were sent to prison colonies last fall.
Tolokonnikova argued that their protest wasn't aimed at religion. "It was an ironic, cheerful and bold act, a political outcry, so to speak," she said, adding that the Russian state media interpretation of it as a blasphemous action was deliberately wrong.
She said she wants to go to a prison church to talk to its priest and attend the service, although she added she has no intention of being baptized just yet.
She said that she had been warned about likely harassment by other prisoners who felt insulted by the band's act, but there was nothing like that at her prison colony in Mordovia, a province in western Russia about 217 miles southeast of Moscow.
"They never asked whether I'm religious or anti-religious," she said.
Tolokonnikova said that she has grown tired of the stunt in the cathedral that made the band members global celebrities and drawn protests around the world against Russia's intolerance of dissent. "It's just impossible to think about your work for so long, you would want to switch to other works and forget about the previous one," she said.
Asked whether she wants to say something to Putin, she answered bluntly: "No, honestly speaking, for me he doesn't exist. He is just a blank spot for me."
Earlier this month, Alekhina, who is serving her sentence at another prison colony in the Ural Mountains Perm region, had an appeal rejected by a local court.
Alekhina, who is serving her sentence in a different colony, complained of systematic violation of human rights by the prison administration. She said she was transferred into a solitary cell for 90 days in November after receiving threats from fellow inmates that she suspects were instigated by prison authorities.
"They told me that I would be done with if I stay in that unit," she said.
She said she doesn't mind a solitary cell because it offers good condition for reading, unlike the crowded barracks where it's hard to concentrate.
Alekhina, a vegetarian, said she was cooking her own food from fresh products provided by supporters.
"I will survive, nothing will happen to me," she said, adding that if she faces any pressure she would go on a hunger strike and then be sent back to a solitary cell.