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Why Is Ukraine Prosecuting a Pacifist for “Justifying Russian Aggression”?

Yurii Sheliazhenko has vowed to remain in Ukraine and continue his peace work from behind bars if he’s imprisoned.

We speak with Ukrainian peace activist Yurii Sheliazhenko, whom Ukrainian authorities have charged with justifying Russian aggression, days after his Kyiv apartment was raided and searched. Sheliazhenko is executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and has vocally opposed any escalation of the conflict, calling for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the war. “It is total nonsense that a pacifist is accused in justification of war,” Sheliazhenko told Democracy Now! in an interview just after he returned from being interrogated. He notes the security services are under the authority of President Volodymyr Zelensky, and says “direct involvement” from the leader in suppressing peace activism “is inappropriate in [a] democratic society.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko has been charged by the Ukrainian government with justifying Russian aggression, days after his apartment was raided and searched. Yurii is executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, member of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection and World BEYOND War. He’s appeared on Democracy Now! a number of times and has vocally opposed any escalation of the conflict through fighting or sanctions. Yurii Sheliazhenko has vowed to remain in Ukraine and continue his peace work from behind bars if he’s imprisoned.

Well, he joined us Tuesday from his home, and I began by asking him about his interrogation, that he had just come from an hour before.

YURII SHELIAZHENKO: During this interrogation, the investigator provided me a copy of request to the court. He asked the court to apply to me home arrest. He released some materials disclosed, and I must say that from this pile of papers, I see that, indeed, surveillance was started a year ago, and it was started when I published, as human rights defender, a legal aid document called human right to conscientious objection to military service. And they considered it as a threat to national security. They considered it as a threat to mobilization for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And they started to surveil me.

Then, there was “Peace Agenda for Ukraine and the World.” I prepared this statement based on scientific analysis of conflict escalation between Russia and Ukraine, from friendly divorce after dissolution of Soviet Union to Russian aggression and full-scale invasion. And this statement indeed calls for ceasefire, peace talks. It calls for critical thinking about any images of enemy. It calls for prevention of human rights violations by armed forces. Also, this statement calls to protect the right of everyone to refuse to kill. And this statement was adopted by meeting of Ukrainian Pacifist Movement on the International Day of Peace, 21st of September, last year.

I sent it to several officials, including president of Ukraine and the parliamentary commissioner for human rights. And both Office of the President and the Office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, instead of considering the statement on the merits, as any democratic institutions, democratic leaders should do, give a reply, they just sent it to Security Service. And I must bring your attention to the fact that Security Service of Ukraine is directly subordinated to president of Ukraine, according to law on Security Service. So, when Office of President, instead of considering appeal, petition of the people to discuss possibility of peace, to seek diplomatic solutions, to be guarantor of human rights, as president of Ukraine should be, according to constitution — instead of considering it, when Office of President is sending it to Security Service, it looks like direct involvement of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky into organization of political repressions against those who are speaking for peace. It is horrible, and it is inappropriate in democratic society.

AMY GOODMAN: Yurii, I wanted to ask you: How do you respond to the state saying that you are justifying Russian aggression?

YURII SHELIAZHENKO: It is total nonsense that a pacifist is accused in justification of war for antiwar statement. This peace agenda for Ukraine and the world, it denounces Russian aggression. It quotes a United Nations General Assembly resolution which denounces Russian aggression. We must understand that any violations of international law are not appropriate in a contemporary international order, where we should strengthen democratic and legal foundations of international order.

And, you know, I was searched, and now I am brought to this repressive system for my alleged justification of Russian aggression, in time when our government organized the summit in Saudi Arabia to promote so-called peace formula of Zelensky. And this peace formula, in fact, is a formula of permanent war. A key point of so-called formula of peace of President Zelensky is a Kyiv Security Compact, which was developed by working group of Rasmussen, Yermak. Rasmussen is former NATO chief. And this Kyiv Security Compact includes a Western military supply for Ukraine during decades. And this Kyiv Security Compact also includes a total mobilization of Ukrainian population to war.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you see the war with Russia ending?

YURII SHELIAZHENKO: I know many scenarios proposed, from very pessimistic to very optimistic. Of course, my dream is that people in Ukraine, in Russia, everywhere in the world will think seriously about necessity to transform their societies toward nonviolent governance, and everywhere current structural violence will be repressed with more progressive, nonviolent, democratic governance. It could put end not only this war, but all wars in the world.

And, you know, since this war is planned for decades now, and financing for this war is lobbied and, in some ways, planned for decades, it is very serious. This long-term attitude to hope could be very adequate to long-term narrative thinking of warmongers.

As for more, like, more traditional approaches, of course, it would be great if Russia just leave Ukraine. We have wonderful slogan: “Russia out of Ukraine, NATO out of existence.” If only they happen, it would be the best scenario. But it could happen only in the case if serious changes will be started in society.

Now even more conservative variants. For example, ceasefire and peace talks, some sort of frozen conflict, it would be, of course, very painful option, but if instead of taking rational choice to stop the war, just to stop it not because of choice but because of exhaustion. And this exhaustion could happen, because we have tens of thousands cripples. We have a growing number of people who don’t want to fight. And Russia have it, and maybe more, too. I am not saying about killed people. There are a lot of killed soldiers and civilians. Ukraine have destroyed cities. This war should be ended at least — at least by humanitarian reasons. It is humanitarian necessity to seek ceasefire and peace talks. It is very conservative formulation, ceasefire and peace talks. It is not needed big changes in the world I seek to ensure nonviolent governance, to ensure peace literacy of everybody, to ensure that all people know something about nonviolent conflict resolution. Ceasefire and peace talks, it is very conservative. Have at least that. But, of course, we need to work for more.

AMY GOODMAN: Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko has been charged by the Ukrainian government with justifying Russian aggression, days after his apartment was raided and searched.

Next up, we speak with one of the 10 peace activists just arrested on the runway at an air base in the Netherlands, where 15 U.S. nuclear bombs are stockpiled. Stay with us.

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