Commentary. Conscientious objectors – Russian and Ukrainian people committed to nonviolence, who are already talking to each other, working together, building bridges of peace – must be supported, because they are true peacemakers.

The peaceful resistance of Russian and Ukrainian objectors

Standing with the victims, anywhere and everywhere, is the first duty of nonviolence. We are committed to helping, supporting and giving aid to all those who are suffering the atrocities of war. We share a deep sympathy for the Ukrainian people. The aggressor, the perpetrator, must be stopped. But how? That is the question.

In Russia, there are thousands of young people who do not want to go to war, who are refusing military service, who are declaring themselves conscientious objectors and are branded as draft dodgers and deserters. They are the weakness in Moscow’s warmongering regime – the ones who are objecting to the war in a concrete manner.

In Ukraine, too, there are many different voices rising up to defend their homeland from aggression. We admire the tenacity of Ukrainian resistance, which is not only embodied by the young people called to take up arms, but also includes those young people who are rejecting arms and choosing civil resistance, the form practiced by the majority of the population.

Pope Francis held up the figure of Franz Jägerstätter as an example to young Europeans: a young Catholic peasant and conscientious objector who, when called to join the army by the Nazi regime, “refused, because he felt it was unjust to kill innocent lives.” Franz chose to be sentenced to death rather than kill another. “He considered the war totally unjustified.”

Today, in Russia and Ukraine, there are many more Franz Jägerstätters who are objecting to military service and being jailed for it.

Together with Pope Francis, they stand for the fact that the arms trade represents “money drenched in blood,” and they refuse to use them. They’re seeking asylum and protection, but the doors of Europe are still closed to them. They are asking to be granted international status as political refugees because conscientious objection must be protected according to the European Convention on Human Rights.

If it is true that “there is no just war” and that war never solves the problems it is intended to solve, conscientious objectors are the architects of this vision and are already making it a concrete reality in our own times.

Conscientious objectors – Russian and Ukrainian people committed to nonviolence, who are already talking to each other, working together, building bridges of peace – must be supported, because they are true peacemakers.

There are about 5,000 young Ukrainians who have declared themselves conscientious objectors and would like to perform civilian service as an alternative to armed service, but the current martial law is not allowing them this option. Some of them are already facing criminal proceedings. In particular, we are following the cases of two Ukrainian objectors, Ruslan Kotsaba and Vitaliy Alekseinko, to whom we are providing legal assistance.

Ruslan has been recognized as a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International. He was arrested and imprisoned for 524 days for expressing his pacifist ideas; the prosecution sought a 15-year prison sentence on charges of “treason and espionage.” Ruslan decided to leave Ukraine to continue his work for peace from abroad. He is currently in the United States, but the criminal case against him is still moving forward.

Vitaliy was found guilty of “evading military service during mobilization” and sentenced to one year in prison. He has now filed an appeal in which he asks to have his sentence commuted to probation; the next hearing will be held on December 12 at the Ivano-Frankivsk Court of Appeals, where our lawyers will be present, aiming to ensure a fair trial and the respect for the rights of the defense.

The Nonviolent Movement is working with both the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and the Russian Conscientious Objectors Movement, together with the international nonviolent and antimilitarist networks War Resisters’ International (WRI), European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and other Italian NGOs such as Un Ponte Per, Stop The War Now and the Italian Peace and Disarmament Network.

With our “Objection to War” Campaign, we support each and every objector, on every side: unarmed patriots who are unwilling to hate the homeland of another.

Mao Valpiana is president of Movimento Nonviolento.

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