Yurii Sheliazenko , leader of the Nonviolent Movement in Kiev speaks: “I risk my life, but I am not intimidated by warmongers. Putin and Zelensky remain supreme peace deniers and seek victory on the ground. They lack imagination in building bridges, so they literally blow them up.”

He works as a freelance legal consultant, journalist and writer, was a researcher and professor of law at Krok University, and lives in Kiev. Long-haired and bearded, always a little out of breath, he is the point of reference in Ukraine for the international peace movement. His nonviolent organization is part of EBCO/BEOC, the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, and War Resisters International. His projects include translating and disseminating the nonviolent texts of Gandhi and Capitini in Ukraine.

Interview by Mao Valpiana for the Manifesto

Yurii, how are you doing? What kind of life have you been living since the war started?

I’m being called a traitor, threats are being made, I’m risking my life, my name is being publicly mentioned as an enemy. I am not intimidated by all this. I speak out against the warmongers, against all those who want to wage war. My home in Kiev has been shaken by Russian missile explosions nearby, and air raid sirens remind me, day and night, that death flies overhead. However, with our movement, we help civilians survive, continue to advocate the abolition of compulsory military service, carry out peace studies and cooperate with the international peace movement.

What happens after the power clash between Putin and Prigozhin?

Prigozhin was not weakened, he saved his bloody fortunes, consolidated his mercenary army and was allowed to move to a place considered safe. The agreement also increased Putin’s power. He needs mercenary armies for Russian shadow wars around the world, and his Chinese allies may also need them. But this affair showed that even two rival war criminals were able to negotiate a truce with each other and indicate that negotiations are always possible.

What was Lukashenko’s real role, in your opinion?

Belarus is an even more militaristic society than Russia. Prigozhin was already operating in Belarus, and this new agreement only means that Belarus will become his formal headquarters. It also means that Lukashenko plans to use his own private army. Belarus is a kind of offshore for Putin’s oligarchs, a nominally independent jurisdiction where you can save your money.

At the Vienna Summit for Peace in Ukraine, you attacked the “peace deniers.”

Not even the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and the biblical-sized flood convinced Putin and Zelensky to stop the war and work together to save the victims. Both remain supreme peace deniers, seeking victory on the battlefield and refusing to consider any possibility of reconciliation. They lack imagination in building bridges, so they literally blow up bridges!

To those who say that the only alternative is between victory or surrender, what do you say?

Some say it is immoral to stop arming Ukraine for self-defense, but I believe it is immoral to feed the war with the supply of weapons. The only hope to get out of the vicious circle is to learn how to resist aggressors and tyrants without violence, without reproducing their methods and militaristic madness. Putin has attacked militarily, but we cannot act as if nonviolent defense and diplomacy do not exist.

How will the conflict evolve now?

The continuing escalation between Russia and Ukraine now makes it impossible to think about a cease-fire. Putin insists on military intervention to rid Ukraine of a fascist regime that kills its own people. Zelensky mobilizes the entire population to fight the aggression and says the Russians are acting like Nazis targeting civilians. The Ukrainian and Russian media use military propaganda to call the other side Nazis or fascists. All such references serve to justify that a “just war” is being fought: you must be obsessed with the idea that “we” must fight and “they” must die.

In Italy they would accuse you of not being able to distinguish between aggressor and aggressed.

Putin’s war is undoubtedly evil, but during the seven years before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both Russians and Ukrainians violated the cease-fire agreement in Donbass, where thousands were killed. The truth is that many Ukrainians are not so innocent [and neither] are the Russians. The U.S., U.K. and other countries in the West have strengthened NATO, which is expanding eastward. Both sides run the risk of starting a nuclear war that can lead to the destruction of life on our planet.

The original article can be found here