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In Sochi, a group of uniformed Cossacks attacked members of the protest group Pussy Riot with pepper spray and horse whips. Just moments earlier, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Masha Alyokhina, and a handful of other members headed out of a cafe toward the Sochi seaport, where they prepared to perform. As they were putting on their neon ski masks, about a dozen Cossacks descended on the group, thrashing them with whips, throwing them to the ground, and kicking them as police officers stood by. The police allowed the mini-pogrom to continue for about ten minutes.
Russia has fielded hundreds of Cossacks in Sochi for the Olympics to help the police maintain public order. This state-supported militia force, with its signature fur hats and riding boots, can be seen all throughout the Olympic host city during the Winter Games.
The incident took place against a backdrop of arrests and detentions of opponents of the Russian authorities and the Olympics. These critics have alleged that massive corruption and environmental damage took place during preparations for Sochi 2014. Pussy Riot said that they came to the city to record a protest song to draw attention to the detention of Yevgeny Vitishko, an environmentalist. Vitishko was recently sentenced to three years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence he received for painting graffiti on the fence of the local governor's residence, which was built in a national forest. Amnesty International maintains that Vitishko's conviction was politically motivated, and considers him a prisoner of conscience.
Pussy Riot finally accomplished what the group had come to Sochi to do, recording their first protest song since being released from prison: "Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland." In an interview with Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky, Tolokonnikova responded to detractors who claim that she and Alyokhina are no longer true members of the protest group by saying, "Anyone can become a member of Pussy Riot, including any one of you. The only thing you have to do is be passionate about politics, make up a song, record that song, find a place, put on a mask and perform."
To keep up with Simon's coverage of the Olympics on VICE News through February, follow him on Twitter: @simonostrovsky - twitter.com/SimonOstrovsky
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