'Don't leave the cause of peace to generals and heads of state!'

IssueDecember 2023 - January 2024
Feature by Yurii Sheliazhenko

Greetings from Kyiv. Yesterday [14 November] my city was disturbed again by air raid sirens, so I ran from Vernadsky scientific library to hide in the closest shelter, a subway station.

Ruthless Russian aggression against Ukraine continues, as well as the Ukrainian defensive war effort. Civilians are dying, cities are being bombarded on both sides of the frontline, and that is the essence of any war – aggressive or defensive – the pure evil of war, which is barbaric mass killing by definition.

The air raid alert didn’t stop president Zelenskyy from signing a request to his pocket parliament to continue martial law and compulsory mobilisation for another 90 days, and not for the last time: top Ukrainian general [Valerii] Zaluzhny has admitted that the war is a stalemate.

This stalemate has already taken more than half a million lives, but enormous losses on the battlefield haven’t changed attitudes in Moscow and Kyiv to fight, not just for months, but for years and years.

The irony is that ambitious plans to win in the indefinite future cause everyday losses in a cruel irrational war of attrition.

Corpses buried in trenches, endless graveyards of fallen heroes will make questionable any value of victory if someone even dare to celebrate such after this tragic mess, and I am optimistic about this ‘after the mess’ expectation because some chilling voices on both sides have already said that this war will never end.


It is forbidden to seek peace, peace activists are persecuted, and international initiatives like the Vienna Summit for Peace in Ukraine are falsely portrayed as enemy propaganda with personal defamation of organisers and participants.

Propaganda of war has become the state ideology; intellectuals are mobilised to serve it and punished for any doubts. Just one example: for long years, Jürgen Habermas was an icon for Ukrainian philosophers, but now, after his moderate advocacy of peace talks, they have turned the academic journal Philosophical Thought into a quarterly exercise in pamphleteering which should be called more correctly Philosophical Thought Against Habermas because there are attacks on Habermas in almost every article.

Structural, existential, fundamentalist militarism poisons our minds and our everyday lives. The hate consumes us. Even pro-war thinkers can’t ignore this. I didn’t expect from Myroslav Marinovich a realist quip that there will never be a ditch with crocodiles between Ukraine and Russia. Sergiy Datsyuk warned quite rightly that the war will never end if people will continue to refuse to think and transform, because the war is exactly how you deal with conflicts without thinking. Any war is dumb indeed. These voices of common sense, however, are rare.

Talking to Time magazine about the unrealistic military goals of President Zelenskyy, a member of his team preferred to be anonymous, and not without reason: immediately after the publication, one of the functionaries in the presidential office called for the ‘security’ service to expose and punish those who don’t believe in victory.

My thoughtcrime

As you probably know, the ‘security’ service of Ukraine absurdly accused me, a pacifist, of the so-called justification of Russian aggression in a statement which clearly condemns Russian aggression [see PN 2668]. They searched my house and took my computer and mobile phone.

I am under house arrest now until the end of this year at least, and then a trial could be started: there is a risk that I could be jailed for up for five years.

My ‘crime’ was that I sent to president Zelenskyy a statement entitled ‘Peace Agenda for Ukraine and the World’ which calls for a ceasefire, peace talks, respect for the right to refuse to kill, nonviolent democratic governance, and conflict management.

To be precise, that is what is written in the formal notification of suspicion I received, but my real crime in the eyes of militarists is that the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and I have raised popular awareness about the human right to conscientious objection to military service, which is furiously denied by the armed forces of Ukraine, contrary to all obligations and commitments according to the constitution of Ukraine, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

The number of people willing to die for the sake of militarism decreases.

There are thousands of draft evaders, but it is a pity they are not courageous enough to become antiwar activists.

“Don’t leave the cause of peace to generals and heads of states armed to the teeth!”

Lacking [hu]manpower, instead of changing ambitious plans, Zelenskyy’s regime still pursues the fantastic goal of making soldiers of the whole population of the country and punishing all those who refuse to kill.

So they opened a criminal investigation against me for the thoughtcrime of pacifism, and started hidden surveillance, and infiltrated agents provocateurs into our organisation long before the letter to president Zelenskyy. His pocket national ‘security’ service has done this because of my human rights defending work, my legal aid to conscientious objectors.

Individual conscience and a serious attitude to peace studies or just to the old commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ could easily make you an enemy of the state in Ukraine.

Seventh-Day Adventist Dmytro Zelinsky became a prisoner of conscience, thrown into jail for his demand to replace conscription with alternative service.

Another prisoner of conscience, Vitaliy Alexeienko, was released from jail by the supreme court but not acquitted; a retrial was ordered with reference to an outdated law which, contrary to the constitution, grants access to alternative service only in peacetime.

I prepared a constitutional complaint for Vitaliy but my notes were seized during the search. I still managed to prepare constitutional complaints in his case, and in my case, but the constitutional court found procedural pretexts to avoid consideration of both complaints, so apparently constitutional complaint is not an effective human rights remedy in Ukraine, but I will continue to try this instrument in hope that at some point it will start to work properly.

There always should be hope for peace and justice, it is the worst thing to lose hope.

Peace is possible

I am persecuted for a dream about the world where everybody refuses to kill and because of that there could be no wars; but even if militarists will imprison me, I hope to continue my human rights work and advocacy of peace from behind the bars.

I am convinced that peace is possible, but I don’t expect that peace could be reached in some secret high level talks.

Don’t leave the cause of peace to generals and heads of states armed to the teeth!

Without structural changes in our way of thinking and our way of life the war in Ukraine, the war in the Middle East and all other wars will never stop.

We need to awaken the popular conscience to make the refusal to kill a pre-eminent factor in culture and politics. We need to activate the popular imagination, produce and popularise more textbooks, or just books, as well as games, films, songs and paintings of the world without violence.

It should be easy to imagine and try life without violence. It is called culture of peace, and it is already approved by consensus of the United Nations General Assembly.

A path to peace lies through big structural changes. Our mission, as peace movements, is to move forward and pave the way for the whole family of humankind on the common planet to a future knowledge-based nonviolent way of life.

Topics: Russia, Ukraine