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'Sextremist' FEMEN Leader Inna Shevchenko Defies Death Threats

Despite Threats, Topless Protester Vows to Keep Baring Breasts 2:55

The leader of a notorious "sextremist" group has vowed to keep baring her breasts in the name of feminism despite the fact it puts a target on her back.

Inna Shevchenko, who helped to found the FEMEN topless protest movement, was on stage during a freedom of speech event in Copenhagen when a gunman opened fire on the cafe in February.

The 26-year-old Ukrainian told NBC News that she had "become used to" death threats, including many she believes are from ISIS sympathizers.

Image: Inna Shevchenko
Inna Shevchenko / FEMEN

"Danger has always been part of my life," Shevchenko said. "If some people want to kill you for what you think, what you defend and what you do and you're sure that what you defend is the right thing, is the best thing… then you can't just give up."

FEMEN's members protest against "patriarchy as a political and social system," dictatorship, the sexual exploitation of women and "modern forms of fascism."

Members of organization typically write phrases on their bodies and go topless at high-profile events. The group's slogan is: "My body is my weapon!" Many activists have been arrested across Europe.

Shevchenko is also no stranger to runs-ins with the law. In 2012, she used a chainsaw to cut down a 13-foot cross that was deemed a memorial to the victims of Stalinist repression. The criminal case that was opened against Shevchenko, she says, was for "hooliganism." Three days later, she fled Ukraine for France.

The group has demonstrated against the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, ex-Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, Pope Benedict and former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Image: FEMEN activists in Henin-Beaumont, France
A group of Femen activists, with the words ''death sentence," "revisionist," "xenophobia," sexism," "racism" and "homophobia" painted on their backs, protest near where far-right leader Marine Le Pen voted during local elections in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on March 29, 2015. Michel Spingler / AP

The Paris-based Shevchenko recounted speaking at the event — which was also attended by Lars Vilks, the controversial Swedish artist known for caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad — in the Danish capital on Feb. 14 last year.

"We are for the freedom of expression, but…" Shevchenko told the event as the first of dozens of gunshots rang out, triggering chaos in the cafe.

"I thought, 'Maybe I just panicked — maybe it was just fireworks,'" she recalled.

Film director Finn Norgaard, 55, was killed and three police officers injured during the attack.

Police said the same gunman was believed to have been behind a fatal shooting on a synagogue later in the day. The suspect was killed in a shootout with authorities.

Shevchenko's brush with death came just a month after she lost friends in the massacre targeting France's satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Calling them the best people she knew, Shevchenko said FEMEN and the magazine staff shared similar ideologies. FEMEN and Charlie Hebdo even collaborated on a cartoon that featured on one of magazine's covers.

"Even though they take lives of greatest people, their ideas cannot be killed. Those ideas cannot be shot by Kalashnikovs," she said.

Image: Inna Shevchenko and other members of FEMEN
Inna Shevchenko, second from left, and other members of FEMEN. FEMEN

Shevchenko says she plans to spend 2016 targeting Islamists and members of far-right movements.

While the violent attacks and death threats are unnerving, the activist insists she has "collaborated with the fear" and is channeling it into something bigger.

"The choice is whether to let fear make you give up or to make fear help you act more," she said. "As activists, we are romantics and dreamers: We try to achieve revolution… We are in search of new system, new model of the world where the highest law will be equality."