MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) – Cossacks serving as volunteer security officials for the Sochi Olympics whipped and punched members of Pussy Riot as the punk protest group attempted to mount an open-air performance on Wednesday.
Band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova wrote on Twitter that they were assaulted as they began to perform a song derisively mocking President Vladimir Putin.
“Pussy Riot was attacked by Cossacks while singing the song ‘Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland’ near a Sochi 2014 banner. [They] whipped [us] and sprayed pepper gas,” Tolokonnikova wrote.
Another member of the group, Maria Alyokhina, posted several photos of what she said were injures sustained during the attack.
“Police did not react,” Alyokhina said.
The Cossacks, who originally hailed from the southern border areas of Russia and are known for their social conservatism, were used to ruthlessly quell popular rebellion in Tsarist times and were repressed under the Soviets.
They have currently regained a semi-official role in Russia and sometimes carry out self-appointed vigilante police duties that are now becoming officially authorized in some parts of the country, including Moscow.
In a move reminiscent of Tsarist Russia, over 400 Cossacks arrived in Sochi in early January to help police maintain order during the Games, which run through February 23.
Alyohkina and Tolokonnikova were released from prison under amnesty in December. They had been serving two-year sentences after being convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for taking part in an anti-Kremlin protest staged by Pussy Riot in Moscow’s main cathedral in 2012.
The two women were detained by police in Sochi on Tuesday along with several other people over a reported theft at a local hotel, before being released with no charges.