Ukraine's topless feminists go international

Ukrainian feminist grovaticanup Femen are taking their topless protests around the world, having already stripped off in Western Europe to highlight a range of issues from democratic violations to sexual exploitation, in what some call a new brand of feminist activism.

While enjoying little support at home, Femen's protesters have become a symbol of Ukraine abroad having taken their tops off in Moscow, Paris, Zurich, Brussels, and even in St Peter's Square in Vatican City.

And now they plan to go even further afield.

"This year we hope to cover North Africa and South America," one of Femen's leaders, Anna Gutsol, told AFP.

The group, which was founded in 2008, came up with the idea of its topless protests almost by accident.

During a demonstration in 2009, Femen activists decorated their backs with slogans and bared them at photographers. The pictures were a hit, leading the women to come up with an even more outrageous way to get their views across.

Since they turned to face the cameras, the international media - always keen on eye-catching stunts - has given them lavish coverage.

Femen's first moment of glory came in 2010 on the day of Ukraine's tense presidential elections. Four young women boldly undressed in a polling station just before the arrival of presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych.

Recently the group has shifted its activism to Western European countries.

Last September it launched its "first training centre" in Paris to propagate its brand of "new feminism". Another activist has moved to Berlin to run a German branch of Femen.

The Paris office is run by Inna Shevchenko, who claimed asylum in France in 2012, fearing persecution after she sawed down a large wooden cross that stood in the centre of Kiev.

The stunt was intended to support Russia's Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed last year for their "punk prayer" protest against President Vladimir Putin's close relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

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