Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma muçulmana na Casa Branca de Trump

Rumana Ahmed é muçulmana. Os pais imigraram do Bangladesh para os Estados Unidos. Em 2011, acabada de sair da faculdade, esta filha de imigrantes, muçulmana, começou a trabalhar na Casa Branca em 2011. Mais tarde, passou para o Conselho de Segurança Nacional norte-americano. Era a única a usar um hijab. Por opção. Acompanhou, receosa, a campanha eleitoral. Quando a nova administração tomou posse decidiu ficar. Aguentou oito dias. Neste texto, escrito na primeira pessoa, publicado na The Atlantic, explica porquê.


Leah Varjacques / The Atlantic


Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a realidade dos gangues nas prisões americanas

Há casos em que a realidade supera a ficção. Este é um deles. Uma reportagem extraordinária, publicada na The Atlantic.


“How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Originally formed for self-protection, prison gangs have become the unlikely custodians of order behind bars—and of crime on the streets.

On a clear morning this past February, the inmates in the B Yard of Pelican Bay State Prison filed out of their cellblock a few at a time and let a cool, salty breeze blow across their bodies. Their home, the California prison system’s permanent address for its most hardened gangsters, is in Crescent City, on the edge of a redwood forest—about four miles from the Pacific Ocean in one direction and 20 miles from the Oregon border in the other. This is their yard time.

Most of the inmates belong to one of California’s six main prison gangs: Nuestra Familia, the Mexican Mafia, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerrilla Family, the Northern Structure, or the Nazi Lowriders (the last two are offshoots of Nuestra Familia and the Aryan Brotherhood, respectively). The inmates interact like volatile chemicals: if you open their cells in such a way as to put, say, a lone member of Nuestra Familia in a crowd of Mexican Mafia, the mix can explode violently. So the guards release them in a careful order.

“Now watch what they do,” says Christopher Acosta, a corrections officer with a shaved head who worked for 15 years as a front-line prison guard and now runs public relations for Pelican Bay. We are standing with our backs to a fence and can see everything.

At first, we seem to be watching a sullen but semi-random parade of terrifying men—heavily tattooed murderers, thieves, and drug dealers walking past one of five casual but alert guards. Some inmates, chosen for a strip search, drop their prison blues into little piles and then spin around, bare-assed, to be scrutinized. Once inspected, they dress and walk out into the yard to fill their lungs with oxygen after a long night in the stagnant air of the cellblock. The first Hispanic inmate to put his clothes on walks about 50 yards to a concrete picnic table, sits down, and waits. The first black inmate goes to a small workout area and stares out at the yard intently. A white guy walks directly to a third spot, closer to the basketball court. Another Hispanic claims another picnic table. Slowly it becomes obvious that they have been moving tactically: each has staked out a rallying point for his group and its affiliates.

Once each gang has achieved a critical mass—about five men—it sends off a pair of scouts. Two of the Hispanics at the original concrete picnic table begin a long, winding stroll. “They’ll walk around, get within earshot of the other groups, and try to figure out what’s going down on the yard,” Acosta says. “Then they can come back to their base and say who’s going to attack who, who’s selling what.”

Eventually, about 50 inmates are in the yard, and the guards have stepped back and congregated at their own rallying point, backs to the fence, with Acosta. The men’s movements around the yard are so smooth and organized, they seem coordinated by invisible traffic lights. And that’s a good thing. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now,” Acosta says. “Hidden up their rectums.”

Understanding how prison gangs work is difficult: they conceal their activities and kill defectors who reveal their practices. This past summer, however, a 32-year-old academic named David Skarbek published The Social Order of the Underworld, his first book, which is the best attempt in a long while to explain the intricate organizational systems that make the gangs so formidable. His focus is the California prison system, which houses the second-largest inmate population in the country—about 135,600 people, slightly more than the population of Bellevue, Washington, split into facilities of a few thousand inmates apiece. With the possible exception of North Korea, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation, at one in 108 adults. (The national rate rose for 30 years before peaking, in 2008, at one in 99. Less crime and softer punishment for nonviolent crimes have caused the rate to decline since then.)

Skarbek’s primary claim is that the underlying order in California prisons comes from precisely what most of us would assume is the source ofdisorder: the major gangs, which are responsible for the vast majority of the trade in drugs and other contraband, including cellphones, behind bars. “Prison gangs end up providing governance in a brutal but effective way,” he says. “They impose responsibility on everyone, and in some ways the prisons run more smoothly because of them.” The gangs have business out on the streets, too, but their principal activity and authority resides in prisons, where other gangs are the main powers keeping them in check.

Skarbek is a native Californian and a lecturer in political economy at King’s College London. When I met him, on a sunny day on the Strand, in London, he was craving a taste of home. He suggested cheeseburgers and beer, which made our lunch American not only in topic of conversation but also in caloric consumption. Prison gangs do not exist in the United Kingdom, at least not with anything like the sophistication or reach of those in California or Texas, and in that respect Skarbek is like a botanist who studies desert wildflowers at a university in Norway.

Skarbek, whose most serious criminal offense to date is a moving violation, bases his conclusions on data crunches from prison systems (chiefly California’s, which has studied gangs in detail) and the accounts of inmates and corrections officers themselves. He is a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity—and ingenuity. There are few places other than a prison where men’s desires are more consistently thwarted, and where men whose desires are thwarted have so much time to think up creative ways to circumvent their obstacles.

Because he is a gentleman, Skarbek waited until we’d finished our burgers to illustrate some of that ingenuity. “How can you tell what type of cellphone an inmate uses,” he asked, “based on what’s in his cell?” He let me think for about two seconds before cheerily giving me the answer: you examine the bar of soap on the prisoner’s sink. The safest place for an inmate to store anything is in his rectum, and to keep the orifice supple and sized for the (contraband) phone, inmates have been known to whittle their bars of soap and tuck them away as a placeholder while their phones are in use. So a short and stubby bar means a durable old dumbphone; broad and flat means a BlackBerry or an iPhone. Pity the poor guy whose bar of soap is the size and shape of a Samsung Galaxy Note.

The prevalence of cellphones in the California prison system reveals just how loose a grip the authorities have on their inmates. In 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confiscated 12,151 phones. A reasonable guess might be that this represented a tenth of all cellphones in the system, which means that almost every one of the state’s 135,600 inmates had a phone—all in violation of prison regulations. “Prison is set up so that most of the things a person wants to do are against the rules,” Skarbek says. “So to understand what’s really going on, you have to start by realizing that people are coming up with complicated ways to get around them.” Prison officials have long known that gangs are highly sophisticated organizations with carefully plotted strategies, business-development plans, bureaucracies, and even human-resources departments—all of which, Skarbek argues, lead not to chaos in the prison system but to order.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma infância disfarçada

No Afeganistão, casais que só têm filhas acabam muitas vezes por criar uma delas como se fosse um rapaz. Mudam-lhes o nome, cortam-lhes o cabelo e arranjam-lhes roupas masculinas – mas todos sabem quem são. E lidam bem com isso. Um artigo publicado na The Atlantic.


The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys

In a society that demands sons at almost any cost, some families are cutting their daughters’ hair short and giving them male names.

“Mehran, age 6, first arrived at her kindergarten in Kabul as Mahnoush, in pigtails and a pistachio dress. When school shut down for a break, Mahnoush left and never returned. Instead a short-haired, tie-wearing child with the more masculine-sounding name of Mehran began first grade with the other children.

Nothing else changed much. Some teachers were surprised but did not comment except to one another. When the male Koran teacher demanded Mehran cover her head in his class, a baseball cap solved the problem. Miss Momand, a teacher who started her job after Mehran’s change, remembers being startled when a boy was brought into the girls’ room for afternoon nap time but realizing, as she helped Mehran undress, that she was a girl. Mehran’s mother Azita later explained to Miss Momand that she had only daughters, and that Mehran went as the family’s son. Miss Momand understood perfectly. She herself used to have a friend at school who was a family’s only child and had assumed the role of a son.

Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.” Midwives, doctors, and nurses I’ve met from all over the provinces are more familiar with the practice than most; they have all known bacha posh to appear at clinics, escorting a mother or a sister, or as a patient who has proven to be of another birth sex than first presumed.

The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often, as in Kabul, it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.

And to most of them, the health workers told me, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to a woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own. Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation. A teenage girl should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise. She could mistakenly touch them or be touched by them, and be seen as a loose and impure girl by those who know her secret. It could ruin her chances of getting married, and she would be seen as a tarnished offering. The entire family’s reputation could be sullied. For that reason, and because the bacha posh I spoke to were minors, some names and details have been changed in the story that follows.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o último procurador de Nuremberga

No final da II Guerra Mundial, 22 membros das SS germânicas foram julgados em Nuremberga. Benjamin Ferencz tinha apenas 27 anos. Mas foi ele, como procurador, o principal responsável pela acusação e condenação dos responsáveis pela morte de mais de um milhão de pessoas. Agora com 95 anos, conversou com uma repórter da The Atlantic sobre a sua vida, os julgamentos, o direito e a história.

Foto: Reuters

Foto: Reuters

“The Last Man at Nuremberg

By Emma Green

Benjamin Ferencz was 27 when the Einsatzgruppen trial began in 1947. There were 22 defendants, all men, all members of the German SS. “One of the counsel has characterized this trial as the biggest murder trial in history,” the military tribunal wrote. “In this case, the defendants are not … charged with sitting in an office hundreds and thousands of miles away from the slaughter.… These men were in the field actively superintending, controlling, directing, and taking an active part in the bloody harvest.” Put simply, the Einsatzgruppen were exterminators: Their squads traveled to towns throughout Eastern Europe, rounding up Jews and shooting them with mechanized efficiency. Some mass graves were filled with hundreds of bodies; others, thousands.

Otto OhlendorfPaul Blobel, and almost two dozen others led these divisions of Hitler’s army; after the war, they were indicted for crimes against humanity. Benjamin Ferencz was 27, and he was the chief prosecutor responsible for convicting 22 men on trial for murdering 1 million men, women, and children.

In the nearly 70 years since he took part in the trials at Nuremberg, Ferencz has lived a remarkable life. He led efforts to return property to Holocaust survivors after the war and participated in reparations negotiations between Israel and West Germany. He wrote multiple books, including a hefty, two-volume tome outlining his ideas for the body that would later become the International Criminal Court. He fathered four children.

Now he’s 95, and tired. “I’m getting old,” he said. “I’m running out of steam. I need help from young people.”

To be clear, nothing about Ferencz’s demeanor indicates a deficiency of steam. I met him outside of a convention center in Washington, D.C. on a sunny spring day, and as we went through a metal detector inside, he happily showed off his suspenders for the security guard to check. “How old are you? You get around pretty well,” the guard said. “For an old guy,” Ferencz replied. He pointed a thumb at me. “This is my girlfriend,” he added.

We sat on a bench in the sun, and there, he told me about the bodies at Buchenwald. “I saw crematoria still going, the bodies starved, lying dying, on the ground. I’ve seen the horrors of war more than can be adequately described.” He spoke clearly and without much emotion. I heard familiar phrases that stuck out from previous interviews I had read in preparation for our conversation. This was how he had learned to tell his story: straightforward, detached, honest but without too much detail. This, I think, is how he has survived 70 years of recalling exactly what it looks like when thousands of murdered Jews are laid out side-by-side, stacked in piles.

After fighting with an anti-aircraft artillery battalion in the U.S. army during World War II, Ferencz was assigned to General George Patton’s office and tasked with helping to establish a war-crimes division. This was not a typical mission, for one good reason: The army had never had a war-crimes division before.

As part of this effort, Ferencz joined the forces that liberated a number of concentration camps in what was then Germany, including Buchenwald and Mauthausen. He collected documentation: the number of bodies, and where they were located; the sanitary conditions of the camps; the files left behind by army officials, including ledgers recording who had died, and when. It was this evidence that eventually led to the speedy conviction of the Einsatzgruppen commanders. “I was able to rest my case after two days without calling a single witness—the top-secret documents were indisputable,” Ferencz said.

But without his intervention, these men may have never been taken to trial. “The case had not been planned,” he said. “When we discovered this evidence, I brought it to General [Telford] Taylor, and I said we have to put on a new trial, and he said we can’t.” The Pentagon had already planned its schedule of trials, Taylor said, and the war-crimes division faced staffing shortages and budget limitations.

“I said, ‘We can’t let these mass murderers go free—I have the evidence here in my hands’. And he said, ‘Can you do it in addition to your other work? OK, you be the prosecutor.’”

Looking back, this anecdote seems outrageous, suggesting that the trials following the most extensive genocide in human history were haphazardly assigned to young, newly minted prosecutors. But this is what’s so remarkable about Ferencz’s career: Again and again, he has been asked to establish law and order in situations that had never been dealt with before on such a large scale. If it sounds like the army was making up trial procedures as it went along, that’s because, well, it was.

The Einsatzgruppen case was fairly straightforward, but since then, Ferencz has dealt almost exclusively in ethical ambiguity. Sorting out stolen property and reparations for the victims of the Holocaust after the war proved particularly difficult. “We first had to establish the principals: Who is entitled for the restitution of property? If parents were dead and they owned a house, what happened to the heirs? What happened to the repairs if the house had been bombed? What happened to the mortgage?” he explained. “We had to prove the injuries to each individual victim and evaluate how much they were worth. If a person had lost his arm, it was easy. If a person had lost his mind, it was not so easy.”

This is the challenge of litigating mass atrocities. Terror cannot be quantified. Years of life cannot be paid back in dollars, and sanity cannot be restored through prison sentences. Ferencz used secret records to secure a conviction against 22 mass murderers, but what if there are no cleanly written ledgers to capture the fuzzy outer boundaries of evil?

The law is a blunt tool for this task, but after a lifetime of confronting war crimes, it’s Ferencz’s tool of choice. He is incredibly optimistic about the potency of courts and prosecutors and statutes. Seven decades after liberating concentration camps, he still believes international law can eliminate war.

“The capacity to destroy life on earth has grown incredibly in the course of my lifetime, which increases the need to set up a mechanism to try to prevent that from happening,” he said. “There are perpetrators of crimes, and there are victims of crimes. They are ready to fight and die for their ideals; they cannot have a fair judgment. You need a third party—a court—in order to determine the facts.”

This goes far beyond the scope of the International Criminal Court, which Ferencz was instrumental in establishing in 2002. To date, that body has indicted only 36 people and opened investigations in eight countries, all of them African. Several countries, including the United States, refuse to recognize its authority. It exists to prosecute war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity in cases where national governments are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. In its 12 years of existence, the court has convicted only two people.

Despite the current limitations of international law, Ferencz believes that a court with a more extensive mandate could help prevent future conflicts by adjudicating transnational disputes and deterring aggression. He has also proposed that national governments and regional alliances criminalize the illegal use of force in accordance with the way it is defined by the United Nations. This, he believes, would change the very nature of war.

“Of course it will change! The present system is too stupid,” he said. “If two heads of state are unable to agree, they send young people from one country to kill other young people who they don’t even know, for reasons they don’t understand, in places they’ve never heard of.

“I’ve written books on all this,” he added. “Nobody reads them.”

Ferencz has spent his entire life documenting, litigating, and trying to prevent mass atrocities, but he’s still hopeful that war—all war, everywhere—can end. He is also one of the last witnesses of the world’s most extensive genocide—the only living prosecutor left from Nuremberg. Among those who know him, there’s a palpable sense of urgency about capturing his memories—the Holocaust museum has done extensive interviews with him, and even his son got involved in helping me set up a conversation with his father. Eventually—in a matter of years, not decades—the world will only have secondhand knowledge of the Holocaust.

“I can tell you why I’m optimistic: I have no choice,” he told me. “I’m 95. I don’t have much time before I die.”

A batalha de Kiev

Hoje, em Kiev, o dia foi assim. Para ver a galeria completa no site da The Atlantic.

Foto: Sergey Gapon/AFP/Getty Images

Foto: Sergey Gapon/AFP/Getty Images

Uma longa viagem através do Google Street View

Guiar de Itália até à Noruega e daí até à África do Sul. Tudo sem sair da secretária. Não tem um décimo da piada de uma viagem verdadeira. Mas é interessante verificar os limites da tecnologia do google street view. Foi o que fez a The Atlantic.

Femen: mais do que um grupo de mulheres semi-nuas

Há cerca de dois anos, as activistas da Femen tiveram uma das suas actuações mais audazes: um protesto relâmpago em frente ao presidente bielorruso, Alexander Lukashenko. O relato das horas que se seguiram e das torturas a que foram sujeitas pelos serviços de segurança bielorrusos está num capítulos do novo ebook da The AtlanticTopless Jihadis, escrito pelo correspondente da revista em Moscovo, Jeffrey Tayler. 

A activista ucraniana, Inna Shevchenko. Foto Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

A activista ucraniana, Inna Shevchenko. Foto Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Topless Jihadis: Inside the World’s Most Radical Feminist Movement

By Jeffrey Tayler

Two years ago today, Femen—the Ukrainian-born protest movement that has since become one of the world’s most provocative activist groups through its topless demonstrations and campaign for a militant feminism —orchestrated one of its most daring early protests, sneaking into Belarus in an attempt to embarrass the Belarusian PresidentAlexander Lukashenko, Europe’s final dictator.

In an excerpt from his new Atlantic ebook, Topless Jihadis, an exclusive account of life inside Femen, the magazine’s longtime Russia correspondent Jeffrey Tayler shares the dramatic story of that formative first mission and the ensuing escape.

In the winter of 2011, Inna Shevchenko, the 22-year-old Ukrainian activist who would soon catapult the protest movement Femen—the self-described “shock-troops of feminism” and “the watch-bitches of democracy”—to international notoriety, began hatching a plan.

She and her Femen colleagues in their burgeoning battle against sexism and female oppression, decided to hit a truly hard target: the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator. “We spent two evenings talking over things in Café Kupidon, which was our office back then. We were pretty inexperienced, but we did know it would be dangerous.”

Getting into Belarus would be the first problem. Inna Shevchenko, Oksana Shachko, and Sasha Nemchinova took an all-night train to Bryansk, in Russia, to avoid the border post between Ukraine and Belarus. (The border between Russia and Belarus is open, with no checkpoints.) Femen had already won a measure of notoriety, and the women didn’t want to be turned back at the frontier, Shevchenko told me.

“We got to Bryansk in the middle of the night and caught a bus to Minsk. We arrived at 4 in the morning, and rented a room in the bus station. We were nervous, and I couldn’t sleep. We woke up and called our contact, but as soon as she heard our voices, she said, ‘Say no more!’ and told us to meet her by the theater.” Shevchenko’s voice drifted, her glance diverted. I pictured the scene: the three young women, embarking on a mission that could cost them their liberty, if not their lives, riding on a cold, dark, creaking train north from Kiev through the snow-blanketed forests, the sky starless and black. Then catching a rickety, Soviet-era bus trundling down an icy, potholed highway toward Minsk, a city festooned with portraits of Lukashenko presiding over drab gray boulevards, spottily lit by streetlamps. A dingy room in the bus station.

“We took a cab to the theater. It was bizarre: the streets were empty and silent. It’s the capital, but it looks like a ghost town. The KGB headquarters was on a quiet, wide street, with no one around,” Shevchenko said. “We quickly undressed, raised our posters, and started shouting our slogans.”

Only one video survived the KGB raid that soon followed. It shows the three women in fake, bushy Lukashenko mustaches, with Shevchenko and Shachko coiffed in floral crowns. Nemchinova’s head was shaved to confer on her the president’s male-pattern baldness, her shoulders bearing Lukashenko-style epaulettes, her back painted with the dictator’s portrait, and a communist red star emblazoned between her pendulous breasts. They chanted only one slogan, “Zhyve Belarus!” (“Long live Belarus!”), their posters inscribed with that and FREEDOM TO POLITICAL PRISONERS! The video that made it out “was shot,” Shevchenko said, “by a journalist who came up, stopped and taped, and walked on.”

Bizarrely, no one arrested the activists.

“We grabbed our coats and got dressed and ran like mad. We turned into the courtyards and ran down alleys,” Shevchenko said.

“Our Belarusian contact kept hurrying us, ‘Hurry up! Hurry up! You’ve got to get to the bus station fast!’ At that moment, we saw a man in a black raincoat and black hat, sitting alone on a bench nearby. He got up and came along and passed us, talking on his phone. For a minute I thought, We’re arrested!But no. We started to relax. It was true, we’d succeeded and we were now going to get away. But then at the bus station we saw a second man in a black coat and hat. He came along and stood by us as we picked up our tickets. But he didn’t do anything. He pretended to be reading a sign next to us.” They left the man in black and hurried out to the bus. As they were about to board, it all began.

“Ten guys in black tracksuits, with walkie-talkie earbuds, surrounded us,” Shevchenko recounted. “Then two of them grabbed me and clamped their hands over my mouth. People around us turned away, pretending not to see anything—they are that afraid of the KGB there. The men dragged us over to a gray van, with no windows, and shoved us inside, with an officer sitting on each side of us so we couldn’t move. There were a total of six cars with our minivan, and we peeled out at high speed.”

The activists demanded to know who these men were, but they refused to respond. One of them grabbed Shevchenko’s mobile phone and started scrolling through her messages. “The men asked us who we were and why we were here. We told them the truth, since they knew anyway. ‘With us you need to be careful,’ one of our captors kept saying,” Shevchenko told me. She asked in vain to be turned over to the police. “They kept telling us, ‘Now, bitches, you’ll find out what it means to come to Belarus and destroy our national unity!’ They pulled my hands behind my back and put plastic handcuffs on me. They made us sit in the van with our heads bent down between our knees. Every time I raised my head, they hit me. Everything swelled in me from the cramped position. I never had to go to the bathroom, but Oksana did, so they took her outside and she squatted down and went, like a dog on a leash. We drove for about five hours, always hunched over.

“It was unbearable,” she remembered. “They kept telling us, ‘Remember your mothers’ faces and how happy they were when they saw you. And now imagine them when they see your dead bodies.’ Otherwise there was total silence. It was eerie. They didn’t talk to each other, not a word. They were professionally trained.”

Finally, late in the afternoon, the vehicle stopped. “I thought, Now they’re going to kill us,” Shevchenko said. “They made us get out. They all had masks on. One guy was waving around a huge knife. They took us into the woods and made us strip topless, and gave us a swastika poster to hold. Now they will kill us for sure, I thought.”

The men took pictures of the women with the Nazi emblem and then threatened to kill them. “Then one said, ‘Take off your pants and panties, and turn around and face away from us. And bend over.’Nowthey’ll rape us, I thought. We waited three minutes like that, but they didn’t rape us,” she told me.

“‘Dress by the count of three!’ he then shouted. ‘Strip by the count of three, or you will be killed!’ We kept dressing and undressing. They beat us if we couldn’t keep up. Then they came over to us with some sort of bucket and poured something over our faces. It was green paint, some sort of oil, and then they dropped feathers all over us. One guy grabbed me and shoved me to the ground. He held me down and waved his big knife over me. He grabbed my hair and yanked, and cut it off with the knife.”

The women were dragged back to the van and forced inside for a trip that didn’t last long. The men pushed the women out into the frigid dusk. Shevchenko remembers that the driver was an older man—she could tell by his eyes, through his ski mask. He pointed into the forest and said, “Ukraine’s that way. Just keep to the right.”

“We walked into the woods,” Shevchenko said. “When we heard them drive away, we started running.”

The women crashed and stumbled through the snow banks, tripping over downed tree trunks and fallen branches, and discovered they were in a frozen bog. On and on they plodded. Night was falling and they were alone, now deep among the trees.

“We finally came to a river and saw a man on the other side. He shouted to us and asked who we were. But suddenly he just hurried away. We wandered for another hour, but ended up circling right around to where we’d started. It started to snow. We got really scared.” In the gathering dark, they heard the staccato roar of chainsaws. Three men soon walked out of the forest.

“I ran up to them. But I was covered with green paint and feathers. They looked startled, even afraid of us. They told us their village was about 10 kilometers away. Then they disappeared.”

The activists marched on, having almost lost hope of finding the border with Ukraine, ever more fearful in the night. But then a man came bouncing along atop a tractor. Shevchenko pulled out the $100 bill she had stuffed in her sock for emergencies.

“I offered it to him, but he wouldn’t take us anywhere. He couldn’t understand what I wanted! I kept shouting ‘Take us to the village for this money!’ He spoke half-swallowing his words. He was so uneducated, we could hardly understand him. He just refused to help and drove on.”

After a couple of hours of stumbling down the road, they reached the village of Beki. An old man invited them into his cabin, gave them tea and sweaters, and let them take off their wet clothes and dry them on his stove.

“I felt safe for first time,” said Shevchenko, who called Anna Hutsol and told her where they were. “The old man fed us macaroni and fried onions, and he led us to two beds in a side room. I slept in one with Oksana. Oksana kept crying, saying, ‘We have to leave! I’m leaving or they’ll come for us!’ But I said, ‘No, we can’t go out into woods at night. If we do, they can kill us there and no one would know.’ She threatened to go alone.”

Then things took a turn for the worse.

“A huge man, a lumberjack, who was drunk and angry, burst into our room and threw himself on us, groping us and wanting to have sex. We kept pushing him off, and he kept returning, pawing at us. He was trying to rape us. The old man came back in and shouted at him to stop and made him leave,” Shevchenko said.

“Then we heard a woman’s shrill voice. ‘Police! Police! The police are here! Throw these girls out! We’re simple folk, we’re unprotected! Don’t get us involved with whatever you’ve done!’

“An officer walked into the house and calmly asked us what had happened, who had done this to us,” Shevchenko told me. “He was very polite. As he listened to us, his face showed just how shocked he was. ‘The most that happens here is villagers smuggle cows across the border and sell them,’ he said. At that moment, the Ukrainian ambassador and press attaché showed up, or two men saying that that’s who they were. How could we know or trust anybody? ‘It won’t be so easy to get you out without documents,’ the ambassador said. Police asked us if we wanted to open a criminal investigation, and I said yes. But then suddenly the ambassador said, ‘We need to go, and now!’ They shoved us into their car. We drove out to the border with these two men, but who were they?

“Men in black coats stood by the checkpoint,” Shevchenko recalled. “They’re going to arrest us now, I thought. But we walked through with the ambassador, and onto the Ukraine side. By evening, we were back in Kiev.”

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Hutsol, who had sent the ambassador—it really was him— had also convened reporters, who met the women on arrival. Most probably, Femen’s fame in the former Soviet Union had saved them from further harm. At a press conference in Minsk a week later, Lukashenko implied that his security services had indeed abducted the women, thereby “taking the bait” and showing they could be provoked. Shevchenko, in any case, learned one thing about herself from the ordeal. “As I waited for death, I felt something changing inside. I realized that I could do nothing except continue with my activism. I knew that if they asked me to beg them for my life, I would not do it. I was not ready to give up my struggle to save my life.”

Shevchenko and I sat in silence. Her eyes were now empty, her voice drained. From that grim December on, she would suppress her emotions, her private concerns, any desire she may have had for a personal life, in favor of Femen. She often told me, “I don’t need a boyfriend. I don’t need human warmth. At this stage of my life, I’m devoting myself to my activism, and that’s that.” The experience rattled her. “I was paranoid. If the door rang, it took me 10 minutes to open it—I just trembled. I was sure I was being followed. Then my parents started calling. Mom cried and cried and even had to be taken to hospital, she got so upset. She shouted, ‘We forbid you to continue with Femen!’ My sister called and said the same thing. She said, ‘Don’t make mom cry!’ I refused. I told them, ‘Let’s live as each of us thinks best, and not try to live just so as not to make the other cry.’”

Russians have so often told me that decades of Stalinist repression left fear in their genes. If so, Shevchenko obviously lacked such genes. I mentioned this, but she snapped back, “Fear in our genes? Nothing sounds stupider to me. Yes, I was born in a country where people say such things. But this is just a way for weak people to explain away their cowardice. When you’re born in such a country, all you want to do is earn your bread and keep your head down. Well, I’d rather be dead than live that way. I’d rather be dead.”