32 stories above Moscow, an unusual protest unfurls

The World

The Russian flag is flying over the Crimea, so maybe it's only fair that the Ukrainian flag got to fly over Moscow on Wednesday, thanks to a daring protester.

The Ukrainian flag was visible atop a 32-story Soviet-era apartment building in Moscow on Wednesday morning, where it remained for a few hours. The tall building is known as one of the Seven Sisters, the collection of Stalinist skyscrapers that dominate the Moscow skyline. "It's a Stalin-era building, very prominent, kind of looks like a wedding cake," says journalist Charles Maynes.

The protester also got in another dig: Not only did he fly the Ukrainian flag from the iconic Soviet star atop the building, he also splashed blue paint over the top half of it. Seen from a distance, the blue paint on the gold Soviet star made it mirror the yellow-and-blue flag of Ukraine.

It's not yet exactly clear who the protester was. Some reports suggested it was a Muscovite protesting Russia's role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine; another blog speculated it was a Ukrainian blogger and nationalist. Whoever it was obviously had no fear of heights — and knowledge of how to get down off the 32-story building. "After they pulled off this stunt, they took a selfie and then they jumped off using a parachute to get back down to the ground," Maynes says.

The "political stunt," as it's being called, comes as tensions between Moscow and Kiev have risen following Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. The stunt also called to mind earlier protests by the activist group Pussy Riot, whose members earned two-year stints in a Russian prison, and a Greenpeace protest of Russian oil drilling in the Arctic for which the crew of the Arctic Sunrise spent several months in Murmansk jail cells.

Maynes says Russian authorities, who are not famous for their sense of humor, have reportedly opened a criminal case investigation and are questioning suspects about the stunt. Vandalism, Maynes notes, is the same charge that Pussy Riot faced.

It's not clear if this latest stunt will capture the Russian imagination, but Maynes says it was already generating lots of interest online. "More importantly for Russians who are opposed to what's happening in Ukraine recently, this is a small symbol of hope," he says. "It's pretty lonely to be against the tide these days in Russia." 

Here's a cool video of the view from the top of the spire on the 577-foot-tall Soviet-era building known as the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building: