Oksana Shachko, a founding member of the international feminist group, Femen, was reportedly found dead in her Paris apartment after an apparent suicide.
"RIP. The most fearless and vulnerable Oksana Shachko has left us," a post on the Femen website said. "We mourn together with her relatives and friends and [await] the official version from the police. At the moment it is known that yesterday, July 23, Oksana’s body was found in her apartment in Paris. According to her friends, she left a suicide note."
In her short life, the 31-year-old Ukrainian made a name for herself as an activist and an artist.
Shachko, along with a group of other female activists, founded Femen in Ukraine in 2008. Their initial agenda was to protest the sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women by foreign men in their native country. Later, they stood against various hot button issues including sex tourism, homophobia and religious extremism.
The group operating under the slogan “I came, I stripped, I won,” soon drew worldwide attention due to its unique demonstrations where women went topless, with provocative statements emblazoned on their bodies to call out sexism.
“We also used sexuality to prove our points and explained you didn’t have to be ashamed of your body as a woman,” Shachko said in an interview with the French magazine Crash last year. “Our bodies were our weapons.”
Femen activists also challenged authoritarianism and racism of politicians, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Czech President Milos Zeman, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and public figures like disgraced comedian Bill Cosby.
Because they were apparently not afraid to call anyone out and reportedly didn’t resist the arrests at protests, Femen made international headlines which also at times got the members into trouble.
For instance, after the group called out Lukashenko in 2011, Shachko was one of three women who said they were kidnapped in Minsk by KGB security agents who allegedly forced them to strip naked in a forest, cut their hair, and threatened to torch them. They were reportedly able to escape to a nearby village to seek help.
According to the Guardian, Shachko was abducted again and beaten by unknown assailants during a visit during a visit by Putin to Ukraine.
“We compare her to Joan of Arc,” Shachko’s mother said in the 2014 documentary titled “I Am Femen.” “She’s a real revolutionary, an incredibly strong girl.”
However, in recent years, the group disintegrated due to certain internal divisions and legal proceedings against some of its members.
By 2013, Shachko moved to France, seeking a refugee status in the country. Though she continued her protests for the next year, in an interview with Crash, she explained how she no longer felt a part of the Femen.
“As an ideology it exists but as a structure it doesn’t exist anymore, because nobody really works on it,” she said. “From 2008 to 2013, me, Sasha, Anna, and later Inna, met every day. It took up all our life. We started speaking about women’s rights, and step by step we engaged in more political matters. We became more and more radical, and that led to being attacked by the government and the police. What we’ve been seeing for the last two or three years are activists who do three or four actions in the year and don’t work that well.”
Once in Paris, the 31-year-old activist focused on her another passion: painting.
Shachko had a knack for religious iconography since her childhood, so she put a feminist twist on it to align it with her other interests. In fact, one of the reasons her protests stood out was because she brilliantly expressed her artistic skills in her provocative demonstrations.
With her first solo show in Paris in 2017, she headed to pursue her passions by enrolling herself at the École des Beaux-Arts in 2018.
“I really want to continue doing some activism, but I need to think about it and adapt it to today’s world,” she said.
Unfortunately, she left this world a little too early and her fellow members mourn her death.
“Oksana Shachko may have left us, [but] she is here and everywhere,” said Inna Shevchenko in her email to Yahoo. “Her courage, her dedication and her passion will be here. She is within each of us whom she stood beside. She is in FEMEN, which she, herself co-founded. She is in her paintings, through which she manifested her unprecedented artistic talent. Oksana is in the history of feminism.”
As of yet, Paris police and prosecutors haven’t commented on her death. A post mortem was being carried out to confirm the cause of her sad demise.
Banner Image Credits: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images