Protect Yurii!

IssueOctober - November 2023
Yurii Sheliazhenko (right) waits in court on 20 September. PHOTO: WORLD BEYOND WAR
Feature by PN staff

On 20 September, the prosecution failed to appear in court in Kyiv to begin its case against Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko.

Yurii, executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, has been told he will be charged with ‘justifying Russian aggression’. His flat was raided on 3 August and he has been given a night-time curfew (10pm – 6am) until 11 October (though he is allowed to leave for an air raid shelter if there is an attack, or for medical assistance).

Yurii was supported in court by US peace activist John Reuwer and other members of a delegation from the Zaporizhzhya Protection Project (see here).

Earlier, just after his flat was raided, Yurii received in-person support from another international visitor, the president of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), during her human rights monitoring mission to Ukraine. Alexia Tsouni posted an interview with Yurii on 5 August and accompanied him to his police interview on 7 August, though she was not allowed in.

There was also a major online petition organised by World Beyond War (WBW), which was delivered to the court in Kyiv on 20 September by John Reuwer, a board member of World Beyond War (WBW). The petition was delivered the same day to the Ukrainian embassy in Washington DC, by WBW.

The day after Yurii’s flat was raided, the International Peace Bureau announced that it intended to nominate the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Russian Movement of Conscientious Objectors and the Belarusian organisation ‘Our House’ (see opposite).

All this international attention may have contributed to the decision by the authorities not to proceed straightaway.

Reuwer reported later: ‘we found the court atmosphere friendly to the point of the judges waving goodbye to us from the bench as we left. They were aware of the thousands of signatures collected on the petition.’

‘Absurd’ charge

Yurii’s flat in Kyiv was raided on 3 August by investigators from the security service of Ukraine (SBU) – the successor organisation to the Ukrainian KGB. They seized his phone and his computer, along with some documents of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement.

One of the investigators told Yurii that he was being charged with ‘justification of Russian aggression’, on the basis of a document, ‘Peace Agenda for Ukraine and the World’, adopted by the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement at a meeting on the International Day of Peace 21 September 2022 (see PN 2662).

“The absurdity of prosecuting someone for justifying Russian warmaking on the basis of a statement in which he has explicitly condemned Russian warmaking”

At the moment, this seems to be the only evidence against Yurii.

Another SBU official (named Novak) told Yurii there was an expert opinion that the ‘Peace Agenda’ document justified Russian aggression. Yurii described this as ‘absurd, because the statement condemns Russian aggression.’

The ‘Peace Agenda’ says: ‘Condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine, the UN general assembly called for an immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and emphasised that parties to the conflict must respect human rights and international humanitarian law’ (emphasis added).

That, by itself, just says that the UN general assembly took a certain view.

However, crucially, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement then followed up with this sentence: ‘We share this position.’

The World Beyond War petition says: ‘‘The absurdity of prosecuting someone for justifying Russian warmaking on the basis of a statement in which he has explicitly condemned Russian warmaking, is matched by the absurdity of waging war in the name of freedom and democracy while engaging in this sort of harassment of citizens. We urge you to do better.’

WBW are calling on the Ukrainian government to drop its proceedings against Yurii ‘and to respect human rights, the right to conscientious objection, and the right to freedom of speech’.

War Resisters International says: ‘We remind the Ukrainian government that pacifism is not a crime in democratic states.’

Yurii’s next hearing is scheduled to take place on 3 October.