Two members of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist protest punk band-cum-art collective that is famous for four of its members having performed a ‘Punk Prayer’ in a Moscow cathedral in 2012, much to the annoyance of President Putin, have sought asylum in Sweden in advance of the forthcoming and largely uncontested election on 18th March, in which the President is expected to win a fourth term.

The asylum seekers, Alexey Knedlyakovsky, the only male member of the group, and Lusine Djanyan are two of what could amount to as many as 12 members of a band which hid their identity behind colourful balaclavas and which continues to be active, but whose performances are now extremely limited in Russia by what they claim is constant physical and psychological harassment.

Another two of the members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina, were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and served almost two years behind bars. A third member was released following a successful appeal. A fourth has not been identified. It is understood that neither Knedlyakovsky nor Djanyan is that person though both were both involved in an infamous stunt at the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 during which they delivered an unannounced performance of a song titled ‘Putin Will Teach You To Love The Motherland.’ It elicited a violent reaction from ultranationalist Cossacks, Knedlyakovsky being battered over the head with his own guitar while other members were whipped and pepper-sprayed.

The Sochi incident and the subsequent support Pussy Riot drew from the likes of Madonna, who stripped at a Moscow concert to reveal the band’s name on her back, elevated Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina to global stardom, releasing numerous videos, some of which feature U.S. celebrities, touring extensively and engaging in various art displays, some of which featured work by Knedlyakovsky and Djanyan though they themselves were unable to attend.

One of those videos, ‘Make America Great Again’ was released two weeks before the U.S. Presidential Election in November 2016 and lampooned a dystopian world where President Trump enforces his values through beatings, shaming, and branding by storm troopers. It is unlikely though that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will indict any of Pussy Riot for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election and conspiring to defraud the United States, as he already has done with 13 other Russian nationals.

Knedlyakovsky and Djanyan are more supportive of the less aggressive and more pop-culture oriented image portrayed by what is left of Pussy Riot than are any critics, believing it is just a part of “moving on”. In any case, Knedlyakovsky argues that “anyone can be in Pussy Riot” and that he believes a protest might be made at the forthcoming World Cup. But they won’t be part of it.

Knedlyakovsky and Djanyan’s decision to seek asylum was prompted by their being challenged by suspected agents of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB while walking with their two-year-old son Tigran in the city of Krasnodar. While they themselves felt fairly comfortable in Russia, where Djanyan was an art teacher, they became fearful for their son’s future and made an immediate decision to leave.

While that was surprisingly easy – they suspect the authorities were glad to see the back of them – settling in Sweden was not. They were allocated a tiny flat in a municipal block in a small town of 2,000 people, 100 miles to the west of Stockholm, which they share with assorted other asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa and live on benefits amounting to £450 a month, though rent and utilities are covered in a country that is one of the most expensive in the world to live in but which has an all-embracing welfare system.

Finding work is almost impossible but they hope that if and when the country’s migration agency rules positively on their residence claim they can move to a larger town and resume their artistic lives. One town that is a possible future location has a good record of integration of immigrants and a thriving artistic and musical community and it is understood that discussions have already begun on future work involving the pair.

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