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If Nadya Tolokonnikova wanted to abandon protest and flee Russia for a life of quiet exile in the west, it wouldn’t be so surprising. Although she was freed, by presidential amnesty, last December after serving 18 months in prison for participating in an anti-Putin punk protest, the Pussy Rioter remains under the close watch of the Russian state. Naturally, her emails are monitored; more disturbingly she recently discovered that state security agents dropped by a cafe she regularly visits to install bugging devices. She has been horsewhipped by police in Sochi and had green paint thrown in her eyes by plain-clothed officers in a regional branch of McDonald’s.

Many of her friends and fellow protesters have decided to leave, in a new wave of departures that she describes as “the emigration of disillusionment”. In the two-and-a-half years since Pussy Riot, in rainbow-coloured tights and balaclavas, stormed into Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral to sing their Punk Prayer (“Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish Putin! Virgin Mary, mother of God, banish him we pray thee!”), the optimistic exuberance of Russia’s anti-Putin protest scene has mostly faded to despair.

Tolokonnikova, 24, hasn’t stopped protesting and is not contemplating exile, but for the moment her protest has morphed into something quieter and narrower. Instead of dedicating herself to the overthrow of Putin’s regime, she has set up a prison-reform project and launched a news agency website, Mediazona.”

Recently she has met her heroes Patti Smith and Noam Chomsky, spoken at Harvard Institute of Politics, and spent half the night following her talk protesting outside a police station at the arrest of a Harvard student for trespassing (he was later released). She is feted for her bravery, and gets rock star treatment everywhere she goes, but she says that she is always anxious to return to Moscow, to get back to work. She laughs at the notion of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents trying to wire up her favourite cafe, and says with the wry understatement that flows beneath most of her comments: “It’s obviously not very nice. It makes you realise that the conditions we endured in prison aren’t actually that different from the conditions we’re faced with now that we’re free.””

Nadya Tolokonnikova: ‘I suppose we have nothing more to lose’