Pussy Riot are in defiant mood at Chicago’s Riot Fest after member’s suspected poisoning


Pyotr Verzilov was hospitalised in a critical condition on Tuesday (September 11)

Despite accusing the Russian government of poisoning one of its members days ago, leaving him in a grave condition, Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot performed a 30-minute set at Chicago’s Riot Fest on Friday (September 14).

Nadya Tolokonnikova, leader of Pussy Riot, confirmed to NME before the group’s set that they believe Pyotr Verzilov was poisoned in retaliation for his political activism. Verzilov was one of three Pussy Riot members who served a 15-day jail sentence for disrupting July’s World Cup Final.

He was hospitalised last Tuesday (September 11) in critical condition after losing his eyesight and ability to speak, according to Russian news reports. Tolokonnikova said the hospital in Russia has not allowed family members to see him and would not give details.

“They will not really give us any real information. Basically what they told us so far is that maybe he just overworked,” Tolokonnikova said. “He wouldn’t be in critical condition from overworking. In a few hours, he lost his speech, mobility, and sight.”

Asked if she believed it could have been in response to Verzilov’s running on the field during the World Cup Final in July, Tolokonnikova said that may have played into it.

“It might be for a number of different reasons. He has been a political activist for a long time and this may be an unfortunate consequence.”

As for Pussy Riot’s Friday set — although Verizilov is not part of Pussy Riot’s music act and was not scheduled to be in Chicago for Riot Fest, the group’s thoughts were consumed by his condition.

“We are not a band, we’re a political movement,” Tolokonnikova said. “He’s part of that. The show will happen but it will not be as we had planned it to be because the nature of what is going on around us has changed. We considered cancelling but thought it would be more important to go on with it and tell people what happened.”

They began their set with Tolokonnikova leading a group of nine Pussy Riot members wearing familiar masked hats and carrying a banner that read, “We will punish those who poisoned Peter Verzilov.”

Pussy Riot at Riot Fest

They opened with three songs, including ‘Make America Great Again’, before Tolokonnikova declared that “Poisonings and assassinations will not stop us. We are much more than that. We will survive.” Then the group played a pre-recorded list of 25 points for the crowd to hear but it didn’t have the same impact as Tolokonnikova’s words. The young, mostly American crowd seemed bored with the recording until the band resumed a few minutes later.

Pussy Riot played three more songs before finishing with a three-minute statement on the condition of Verzilov, informing the crowd that today was the first day he was able to speak again.

Tolokonnikova told NME that she would be flying back to Moscow as soon as their set was over.



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