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In Stilettos and Miniskirts, Russian Women Clear Snow

Feb 12, 2011 – 8:02 AM
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When snow fell on St. Petersburg this week, the shovels came out -- and so did the stiletto heels and miniskirts.

With pumps on their feet and construction helmets on their heads, the group, which calls itself X-Z movement, dug the city out, shoveling snow in front of a crowd of spectators on the icy streets by the Griboedov Canal.

Russian women clear snow in an undated handout photo.
Courtesy Kirill Shushkevich
Russian activists clear snow in stiletto heels and miniskirts. The construction helmets aren't for fashion so much as to protect the women from falling icicles.
"[X-Z] was started by a group of like-thinking girls who decided they could solve problems through the power of their feminine beauty," said the group's press secretary, who uses the pseudonym Eva Tornado. "With vivid, beautiful actions we can turn the attention of people and of the government to the issues that concern us.

"We have a slogan: 'Beauty will save the world,' " she told AOL News, referencing a quote from Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "The Idiot." "We girls mean, in a way, to be saviors of the world."

By clearing snow in not-so-warm clothing, the group got a lot of attention. But this isn't its first news-making demonstration.

Last summer, when a hot spell hit St. Petersburg, the X-Z women appeared in the city center to offer their services by spraying the sweaty crowds with water guns.

Later, when it was revealed that the breakwater that protects St. Petersburg from flooding was damaged, they gathered in the city center to give extreme swimming lessons to passers-by.

As with previous demonstrations, the snow-shoveling event wasn't just about beautiful women being beautiful.

"[T]he city doesn't want to remove the snow, so people have to do it themselves," Tornado said. "It makes us embarrassed for our city's many splendors, by foreigners refusing to come here. Last year a giant icicle fell and put a tourist in the hospital, and this year the situation is only worse. If the city doesn't want to take care of it, we can try to get the people involved. ... We're drowning in snow."

The group's leader, Aleksandra Eliseeva, told a local paper that "the snow-filled streets are the main reason there are so few foreign men visiting the city. They see the state of the city on the online cameras and refuse to come. If we clean the area in front of the cameras, they'll come to Petersburg again."

X-Z chose the location for its demonstration with those same webcams in mind. As a result, foreigners could watch the underdressed women taking on the Russian winter at 8 a.m. EST Wednesday here.

The early results suggest that Eliseeva was right -- the Hotels of St. Petersburg website said that more than 40 guests indicated the purpose of their stay was to help the women shovel snow.

An eyewitness reported that a crowd of foreign tourists was on hand to watch the women work -- one even grabbed a shovel and pitched in.

X-Z is one of several activist groups to have sprung up in the former Soviet Union during the past two years whose sole members are attractive young women.

The group has often been compared with FEMEN, a group of scantily clad female activists based in Kiev, Ukraine.

Both groups have made headlines around the world, but FEMEN has taken a far more aggressive and political approach -- and FEMEN-ists have been more willing to expose their bodies to make their point.

FEMEN members have demonstrated topless to protest the Ukrainian government's inaction regarding the massive presence of Ukrainian girls in Europe's sex business.

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In October, they again went topless to greet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin upon his arrival in Kiev, coming out with chants and posters saying, "You can't f!@# us!" and "Ukraine isn't Alina" -- rhyming phrases in Russian and Ukrainian that coyly reference an alleged affair between Putin and famous Russian gymnast Alina Kabaeva.

"Our goals are social, not political," Tornado said. "We've been compared to FEMEN but we have nothing to do with them. In fact, we're against them, because the girls of FEMEN sully the image of woman, displaying their 'charms' right on the street and turning the image of a woman into the image of streetwalkers."

It might serve New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg well to study Russian methods. X-Z's demonstration is the latest in a series of unusual battle plans adopted by St. Petersburg residents against this winter's snow.

After one storm, workers took a chainsaw to the snow; another time, residents of a communal apartment used a hand weight as a wrecking ball.
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