The war in Ukraine is a human and ecological disaster. We have failed to create the social conditions necessary to prevent large-scale violence. We have not been able to escape the cycle of threats, blame and retaliation which exacerbates hostility and mistrust. We did not recognize the relevance root causes and responsibility for harm of the main stakeholders. We have failed to engage in diplomacy that prioritizes the dignity and human needs of key stakeholders, with a willingness to compromise and an emphasis on saving lives. We have failed to adequately train people in non-violent conflict, resistance and civil defense. We cannot afford to make these mistakes again.
Yet, despite all these failures, there are still signs of hope. A variety of creative, courageous and non-violent means of resistance are being activated and could be intensified by Ukrainians and others.
Ukrainians block convoys and reservoirs, and standing their ground even with warning shots fired many cities. In Berdyansk and Kulykіvka people held peace rallies and convinced the Russian army to leave. Hundreds protested the kidnapping of a mayor, and there was demonstrations in Kherson against becoming a breakaway state. Ukrainians fraternized with Russian soldiers to lower their morale and stimulate defections. There was humanitarian aid (with Orthodox priests intervene as escorts) and the care of displaced persons by the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières.
Russians participated in numerous anti-war demonstrations and around 15,000 were arrested. Journalists have interrupted and resigned from state television. Nearly 100,000 Russians from various sectors signed petitions to end the war. Russians from all walks of life spoke out against the war — members of the military and connected to foreign ministry to members of Russia the oil industry and the billionairesas well as nearly 300 Russians Orthodox clerics . During this time, more than 100 the soldiers refused To take part.
Forms of nonviolent resistance through outside support include the outpouring of public statements by key political leaders, as well as the curtailment of the flow of money to the aggressor – via the freezing of bank accounts, the reduction online media monetizationreduce trade, reduce the use of Russian fossil fuels and block ships of Russian goods. Other forms include supporting anti-war protesters in Russia, disrupt technological systems of the aggressor and interrupt misinformation. Another critical form has been the formation of coalitions, the activation of key civil society leaders (including athletes, religious figures and members of the business community) and extensive humanitarian assistance as well as support for refugees.
There have been times when key stakeholders, including Russians, have been re-humanized using labels and narratives that communicate complexity, potential transformation, and shared humanity. More could be done to help move from retributive to restorative justice, while acknowledging responsibility for harm. There was a sharing of educational material on nonviolent civil defense and urge our governments to revitalize and amplify nonviolent activism in Ukraine. Moreover, some religious leaders and others have amplified these stories of nonviolence, challenged the theological ideology supporting the war, as well as challenging the role of racism and white supremacy in the conflict. Another essential practice proposed by some is fasting or praying for Ukrainians as well as opponents.
In the Washington PostErica Chenoweth, professor at Harvard University Explain this research “suggests that it is also important not to underestimate how nonviolent resistance can delay or minimize killings, begin to change the political landscape, and deter future assaults.”
Below are five immediate action steps that civil society, along with members of Congress and the White House, can take to break the cycle of violence and end the war.
1. Courageous and creative actions of nonviolent resistance in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere should be amplified. As the Alliance for Peacebuilding has done, assistance can be offered to establish coordination hubs to provide diplomatic, legal and material assistance to these individuals as well as to call upon others to provide resources to these civil society leaders and activists. This will bring concrete solidarity to dynamics of nonviolent resistance that are twice as effective and 10 times more likely to lead to sustainable democracy.
2. Donors, governments and multilateral institutions can step up their support to unarmed civil protection to protect civilians in a non-violent way. Unarmed Civilian Protection, or UCP, is an evidence-based strategy for the direct nonviolent protection of civilians, the reduction of localized violence, and the development of local peace infrastructures in which unarmed and trained civilians work at the alongside local civil society in violent conflicts. Congress directed the Secretary of State, in consultation with the USAID Administrator, to provide funds to the UCP in his explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022.
3. All stakeholders, including adversaries, must be re-humanized. This is done through the language, labels, and narratives you choose to use. Although difficult, we must avoid labels such as calling people or groups “evil”, “evil”, “irrational”, “thugs” or “monsters”. This does not mean that we agree with or justify their actions. Yet the more we dehumanize others, the more we escalate, narrow our imaginations and activate the dynamics of violence.
4. Ukrainian President Zelensky should be encouraged to sign a phase one deal with Russia to end the war. This will create space for more insightful thinking about how to address root causes and seek a more lasting just peace. We know that the Russian leadership is responsible for their invasion. Still, we have more influence on Zelensky at this point to gain the upper hand morally. For example, a neutral Ukraine is it’s probably worth it to save thousands of lives, at the very least.
5. A wave of strategy delegations or a humanitarian air bridge to Ukraine to generate time and space, or zones of peace, to interrupt hostilities should be considered. For example, this could include one or more allied nations landing huge cargo planes loaded with medicine and food in Ukraine. Senior government (and perhaps religious or other) officials would be on board. Cargo planes are not offensive fighter planes. The United States executed exactly such a humanitarian airlift when Putin invaded Georgia in 2008, which contributed significantly until the end of these hostilities.
Active nonviolence is not about condemning or judging people who lean towards violent resistance in really difficult situations like the one Ukrainians are going through. He affirms and admires their willingness to take a stand against injustice rather than being passive. Active nonviolence is primarily about accompaniment, which can and is being done in various creative, courageous and nonviolent ways by Ukrainians and others.
Relying on a just peace framework helps us to better see these nonviolent possibilities and invites us further in their direction. It also helps us to see that violent action regularly escalates hostility, dehumanization, and harm, and creates further cycles of longer-term trauma and violence. More people could die in this dynamic. For example, Russia is now bombing more civilian areas. In turn, a just peace framework would also help us focus on how we can break the dynamics of violence and build a more lasting just peace. Let’s seriously consider these five steps and find a way to break free from the habits of war.