“War Is a Crime Against Humanity” – The Voice of Ukrainian Pacifists

By Lebenshaus Schwäbische Alb, May 5, 2022

On April 17, 2022 (the Easter Sunday in Western Europe), Ukrainian pacifists adopted a statement reproduced here, together with an interview with Yurii Sheliazhenko, executive secretary of the movement.

“Ukrainian Pacifist Movement is gravely concerned about the active burning of bridges for a peaceful resolution of conflict between Russia and Ukraine on both sides and signals of intentions to continue the bloodshed indefinitely to achieve some sovereign ambitions.

We condemn the Russian decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022, which led to a fatal escalation and thousands of deaths, reiterating our condemnation of the reciprocal violations of the ceasefire envisaged in Minsk agreements by Russian and Ukrainian combatants in Donbas prior to the escalation of Russian aggression.

We condemn the mutual labeling of parties to the conflict as Nazi-alike enemies and war criminals, stuffed into legislation, reinforced by the official propaganda of extreme and irreconcilable hostility. We believe that the law should build peace, not incite war; and history should give us examples how people can return to peaceful life, not excuses for continuing the war. We insist that accountability for crimes must be established by an independent and competent judicial body in due process of law, in result of unbiased and impartial investigation, especially in the most serious crimes, such as genocide. We emphasize that the tragic consequences of military brutality must not be used to incite hatred and justify new atrocities, on the contrary, such tragedies should cool the fighting spirit and encourage a persistent search for the most bloodless ways to end the war.

We condemn military actions on both sides, the hostilities which harm civilians. We insist that all shooting should be stopped, all sides should honor the memory of killed people and, after due grief, calmly and honestly commit to peace talks.

We condemn statements on the Russian side about the intention to achieve certain goals by military means if they cannot be achieved through negotiations.

We condemn statements on the Ukrainian side that continuation of peace talks depends on winning the best negotiating positions at the battlefield.

We condemn the unwillingness of both sides to cease fire during the peace talks.

We condemn the practice of forcing civilians to conduct military service, to perform military tasks and to support the army against the will of peaceful people in Russia and Ukraine. We insist that such practices, especially during hostilities, grossly violate the principle of distinction between militaries and civilians in international humanitarian law. Any forms of contempt for the human right to conscientious objection to military service are unacceptable.

We condemn all military support provided by Russia and NATO countries for militant radicals in Ukraine provoking further escalation of the military conflict.

We call on all peace-loving people in Ukraine and around the world to remain peace-loving people in all circumstances and to help others to be peace-loving people, to collect and disseminate knowledge about peaceful and nonviolent way of life, to tell the truth that unites peace-loving people, to resist evil and injustice without violence, and debunk myths about necessary, beneficial, inevitable, and just war. We don’t call for any particular action now to ensure that peace plans will not be targeted by hatred and attacks of militarists, but we are confident that pacifists of the world have a good imagination and experience of practical realization of their best dreams. Our actions should be guided by hope for a peaceful and happy future, and not by fears. Let our peace work bring closer the future from dreams.

War is a crime against humanity. Therefore, we are determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.”

Interview with Yurii Sheliazhenko, Ph.D., Executive Secretary, Ukrainian Pacifist Movement

You have chosen the way of radical, principled nonviolence. However, some people say this a noble attitude, but in face of an aggressor, it does not work anymore. What do you answer them?

Our position is not “radical,” it is rational and open to discussion and reconsideration in all practical implications. But it is indeed consistent pacifism, to use traditional term. I can’t agree that consistent pacifism “does not work”; on the contrary, it is very effective, but it is indeed hardly useful for any war effort. Consistent pacifism can’t be subordinated to military strategies, can’t be manipulated and weaponized in the battle of militarists. It is because it is based on understanding what is going on: this is a battle of aggressors on all sides, their victims are peace-loving people divided-and-ruled by violent actors, the people dragged into the war against their will by coercion and deception, deluded by propaganda of war, conscripted to become cannon fodder, robbed to finance the war machine. Consistent pacifism helps peace-loving people to liberate themselves from oppression by war machine and uphold nonviolently human right to peace, as well as all other values and achievements of universal culture of peace and nonviolence.

Nonviolence is a way of life which is effective and should be effective always, not just as a sort of tactic. It is ridiculous if some people think that today we are humans, but tomorrow we should become beasts because we are attacked by beasts…

Nevertheless, most of your Ukrainian compatriots have decided for armed resistance. Don’t you think that it is their right to make their own decisions?

Total commitment to war is what the media show you, but it reflects wishful thinking of militarists, and they took a lot of efforts to create this picture deceiving themselves and whole world. Indeed, last Rating sociological group public opinion poll shows that about 80% of respondents are involved in defense of Ukraine in one way or another, but only 6% took armed resistance serving in the military or in territorial defense, mostly people just “support” the army materially or informationally. I doubt it is real support. Recently New York Times told a story of a young photographer from Kyiv who “became intensely patriotic and a bit of an online bully” when the war drew near, but then he surprised his friends when paid to smugglers to cross the state border violating illegal ban for almost all men to leave Ukraine imposed by the border guard to enforce military mobilization without proper compliance with constitutional and human rights law. And he wrote from London: “Violence is not my weapon.” According to OCHA humanitarian impact situation report of 21 April, nearly 12.8 million people fled from the war, including 5.1 million across borders.

Crypsis, along with fleeing and freezing, belongs to simplest forms of anti-predator adaption and behavior you can find in nature. And environmental peace, truly non-contradictory existence of all natural phenomena, is existential basis for progressive development of political and economic peace, dynamics of life free from violence. Many peace-loving people resort to such simple decisions since peace culture in Ukraine, in Russia and other post-Soviet countries, unlike in the West, is very underdeveloped and primitive and ruling militarist autocrats are used to shut up brutally many dissenting voices. So, you can’t take as genuine any expression of support for Putin’s or Zelensky’s war effort when people publicly and massively demonstrate such support, when people talk with strangers, journalists and pollsters, and even when they say what they are thinking in private, it can be some sort of double-think, peace-loving dissent can be hidden under layers of loyal language. Finally, you can find what people think really from their actions, like during WWI commanders realized people are not believing in existential enemy nonsense of war propaganda when soldiers used to intentionally miss during shooting and celebrate Christmas with “enemies” on the middle between trenches.

Also, I reject a notion of democratic choice in favor of violence and war for two reasons. Firstly, an uneducated, misinformed choice under influence of the propaganda of war and „military patriotic upbringing“ is not a choice free enough to respect it. Secondly, I don’t believe militarism and democracy are compatible (that’s why for me not Ukraine is victim of Russia, but peace-loving people in Ukraine and Russia are victims of their post-soviet militarist warmongering governments), I don’t think that violence of the majority towards minorities (including individuals) in enforcing majority rule is „democratic“. True democracy is everyday universal involvement in honest, critical discussion of public issues and universal participation in decision-making. Any democratic decision should be consensual in the sense that it is supported by the majority and deliberate enough to be not harmful for minorities (including single persons) and nature; if the decision makes impossible the acquiescence of those who disagree, harming them, excluding them from „the people,“ it is not democratic decision.  For these reasons, I can’t accept „democratic decision to wage just war and to punish pacifists“ – it can’t be democratic by definition, and if somebody thinks it is democratic, I doubt such sort of „democracy“ has any value or just sense.

I have learned that, despite of all this recent developments, nonviolence has a long tradition in Ukraine.

This is true. You can find a lot of publications about peace and nonviolence in Ukraine, I personally made a short film “Peaceful History of Ukraine,” and I wish to write a book about history of peace in Ukraine and in the world. What worries me, however, is that nonviolence is used for resistance more often than for transformation and progress. Sometimes nonviolence is even used to uphold archaic identities of cultural violence, and we had (and still have) in Ukraine an anti-Russian hate campaign pretending to be nonviolent (Civic movement “Vidsich”) but now turned openly militarist, calling to support the army. And nonviolent actions were weaponized during pro-Russian violent power grabs in Crimea and Donbass in 2014, when Putin infamously said that civilians, especially women and children will come as a human shield before the army.

How do you think Western civil society can support Ukrainian pacifists?

There are three ways how to help the cause of peace in such circumstances. Firstly, we should tell the truth, that there is no violent way to peace, that current crisis has a long history of misbehavior on all sides and further attitude like we the angels can do whatever we wish and they the demons should suffer for their ugliness will lead to further escalation, not excluding nuclear apocalypse, and telling the truth should help all sides to calm down and negotiate peace. Truth and love will unite East and West. The truth generally unites people because of its non-contradictory nature, while lies contradict themselves and common sense trying to divide and rule us.

Second way to contribute to the cause of peace: you should help the needy, victims of war, refugees and displaced people, as well as conscientious objectors to military service. Ensure evacuation of all civilians from urban battlefields without discrimination on the ground of gender, race, age, on all protected grounds. Donate to UN agencies or other organizations helping people, like Red Cross, or volunteers working on the ground, there are a lot of small charities, you can find them in local social networking groups online on popular platforms, but beware that most of them are helping to the armed forces, so check their activities and ensure you are not donating for weapons and more bloodshed and escalation.

And thirdly, last but not least, people need peace education and need hope to overcome fear and hatred and embrace nonviolent solutions. Underdeveloped peace culture, militarized education which produces rather obedient conscripts than creative citizens and responsible voters is a common problem in Ukraine, Russia and all post-Soviet countries. Without investments in development of peace culture and peace education for citizenship we will not achieve genuine peace.

What is your vision for the future?

You know, I receive a lot of letters of support, and several Italian students from Augusto Righi High School in Taranto wrote me to wish a future without war. I wrote in response: “I like and share your hope for a future without war. That’s what people of Earth, many generations of people are planning and building. Common mistake is, of course, attempting to win instead of win-win. Humankind’s future nonviolent way of life should be based on the peace culture, knowledge and practices of human development and achievement of socio-economic and ecological justice without violence, or with its minimization to marginal level. Progressive culture of peace and nonviolence will gradually replace archaic culture of violence and war. Conscientious objection to military service is one of methods to make the future happen.”

I hope that with the help of all people in the world telling the truth to the power, demanding to stop shooting and start talking, aiding those who need it and investing into the peace culture and education for nonviolent citizenship, we could together build a better world without armies and borders. A world where Truth and Love are great powers, embracing East and West.

Yurii Sheliazhenko, Ph.D. (Law), LL.M., B. Math, Master of Mediation and Conflict Management, is lecturer and research associate at KROK University (Kyiv), the best private university in Ukraine, according to Consolidated ranking of Ukrainian universities, TOP-200 Ukraine (2015, 2016, 2017). Furthermore, he is a board member of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (Brussels, Belgium) and a member of the Board of Directors of World BEYOND War (Charlottesville, VA, United States), and executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement.

The interview was conducted by Werner Wintersteiner, professor emeritus of Klagenfurt University (AAU), Austria, founder and former director of the Centre for Peace Research and Peace Education at AAU.

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