Activist Artist Faces Extradition to Russia

The controversial activist could be sent to a penal colony.

Voina's Oleg Vorotnikov
Photo via: Voina Group Facebook page

Oleg Vorotnikov, the founder of the Russian art collective Voina, was arrested in Venice on July 27th after a violent dispute with local anarchists, during which he was wounded on the head.

Now, according to information published on Voina’s Facebook page, his lawyer, Giuseppe Romano, said that the activist would be released on bail after more than a week in prison. The activist is awaiting the court’s decision regarding his possible extradition to Russia.

As Libération has previously reported, the original reason of the fight remains unclear.

Vorotnikov is the subject of an Interpol warrant requested by the Russian authorities. On the run with his wife, fellow Voina member Natalia Sokol, and their children Kasper and Mama, the activist is thought to have spent some time in Paris before reaching Venice.

There, the family is reported to have lived in a former 15th-century hospice in Santa Marta, squatted by local anarchists. After a couple of months, the relationship between Vorotnikov and the original occupants appears to have soured, and on July 27th a fight broke out.

Sokol was quoted on Voina’s Facebook page recounting the incident: “When we were outside the squat these so called activists blocked our kids Kasper and Mama in the house, barricaded doors and when we came back they attacked me and Oleg with a metall tubes and bricks. I was also beaten from 2 of them by hoes. This things usually used for a plants. Oleg was beaten in a very aggressive form by 10 people to one. He was bleeding and lost consciousness for a while. Then Oleg was transporated to hospital and doctors did on his head the operation – 30 stitches.

In a Facebook statement, the squatters claim that they had asked Vorotnikov and his family to leave a month ago, which he refused. They say that at that point he became increasingly provocative, occasionally threatening them with weapons. Vorotnikov was arrested outside the house in possession of an axe. The squatters say he was about to smash the door and was threatening to kill those inside, and that he hurt his head when finally disarmed.

Oleg Vorotnikov in court, August 1, 2014  Photo via: Voina Group Facebook page

Oleg Vorotnikov in court, August 1, 2014
Photo via: Voina Group Facebook page

This is far from Vorotnikov’s first brush with the law. Voina—which for a while included future Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich—is renowned for its highly contentious actions, which have involved anything from throwing live cats around a McDonalds to torching a police car on New Year’s Eve in 2011.

The group attracted global attraction in 2010, when it painted a 65-meter long penis on the Liteyny Drawbridge in Saint Petersburg (see photo, below), right across from the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (former KGB). According to the collective’s website, Free Voina, a minimum of 20 criminal investigations into the group’s activities have been initiated, and some are still ongoing.


The Liteyny Drawbridge in Saint Petersburg

Vorotnikov spent four months in prison in 2011 with fellow Voina member Leonid Nikolayev. They were arrested and accused of aggravated hooliganism after overturning several police cars in Moscow during anti-corruption protests. The BBC reported that they were released when British street artist Banksy paid 300,000 rubles ($8,283) bail for each of them.

During the ongoing extradition proceedings, Vorotnikov will have to report to a police station twice a week. If deported, he risks spending several years in a penal colony.

At the time of writing, Voina representatives hadn’t responded to artnet News’ request for comment.

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