Oksana Shachko, a Founder of Feminist Protest Movement, Dies at 31

Oksana Shachko in 2011 during a protest in Kiev. “Oksana fought for justice, she fought for equality, she fought for herself and all women as a hero,” the group she helped found said.

Oksana Shachko, a Ukrainian artist and a founder of Femen, a women’s rights group famous for its topless political protests, was found dead on Monday at her home in Montrouge, a suburb south of Paris. She was 31.

Emmanuelle Lepissier, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office in the nearby suburb of Nanterre, said the police were treating the death as a suicide pending the results of an autopsy.

“Oksana hanged herself,” Anna Hutsol, another founder of Femen, told Ukrainska Pravda, a news website. “Her friends said that they saw her last on Friday. They decided to break the door, and then they found her.”

In a statement, Femen said, “Oksana fought for justice, she fought for equality, she fought for herself and all women as a hero.”

Together with the Pussy Riot punk group in Russia, Femen became part of a post-Soviet protest phenomenon that sometimes drew a violent reaction. In 2011, Femen said that Ms. Shachko and other activists had been abducted in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, after campaigning in front of the K.G.B. headquarters there. Several members were beaten up in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, in 2013 ahead of a visit by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Ms. Shachko and several other activists from the university town of Khmelnytsky, Ukraine, founded Femen in 2008. After a few conventional protests, they decided to demonstrate topless, often with political slogans written on their bodies.

At times braving icy temperatures, Femen members protested in Ukraine against sexual exploitation; in Davos, Switzerland — the scene of an annual conference of world political and business leaders — against income inequality; and, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, against policies of the Roman Catholic Church, among other targets. In their nakedness they wore flower crowns to symbolize chastity.

In 2013, members of Femen ran topless in front of Mr. Putin as he visited Germany, drawing a grin and two thumbs up from him before guards wrestled the activists to the ground.

Ms. Shachko, along with several other Femen members, moved to Paris that same year and was granted political asylum by the French authorities. She maintained that the group’s members had been pursued by Russian special services and that the agents had planted a grenade in Femen’s office in Kiev, along with a photograph of Mr. Putin.

Ms. Shachko left Femen in 2014, saying the group, which by then had spread to other cities, had lost its purpose.

“It was not the small, revolutionary, aggressive and courageous movement that we created in Ukraine,” she said. In France, “it became empty.”

Oksana Shachko was born in Khmelnytsky, a sleepy regional capital 160 miles west of Kiev. Her parents had her studying religious iconography when she was 8 years old. Two years later, she was painting murals in churches and monasteries.

At 13, she decided to become a nun, but her parents talked her out of it.

“From this moment on, I began to reflect on what religion and faith mean to a human being,” she said in 2016 in an interview with the 032c, a culture magazine published in Berlin. “I found an answer, and it was atheism.”

Survivors include her mother, Olga Shachko, and a brother, Aleksei.

In Paris, Ms. Shachko worked on a documentary film about Femen with the Swiss director Alain Margot. She also returned to creating icons, but this time they were intended for art galleries, not churches.

One depicted the Orthodox trinity with angels wearing flower crowns and smoking cigarettes in front of empty bottles. In 2016, Ms. Shachko had a solo exhibition of her work at a Paris art gallery.

“In my icons, I replace men; I put women in the center,” she said in an interview with the British magazine Crash in December. “My work is still very feminist.”

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