15th May is the most meaningful day of May

Greeting of Yurii Sheliazhenko, Ukraine, to the International Day of Conscientious Objection 2023

(15.05.2023) Dear friends, greetings from Kyiv, from the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement.

I am recording this message on a day when the capital of Ukraine was again bombarded by the Russian army. For many years, in May both Ukraine and Russia celebrated a Victory day, a holiday of the militarist cult of so-called great victory in WWII inherited from the Soviet Union. Old song says: it is a holiday with tears in eyes. But generally tears were not allowed, war crimes like cruel bombings of cities during the war and especially at the end of war were forgotten. It was a holiday of the almighty army and deadly strength of us "the victors."

When once on Victory day I went to the streets of Kyiv with a banner calling to abolish conscription and army, some people with feelings of victors shamefully tried to take away my banner, one man in military uniform even hit me. These attempts to shut up a pacifist voice demonstrated total indignity of so-called victors.

And now, after stubborn unwillingness of Zelensky to implement Minsk accords and Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, on both sides of the frontline civilians are dying and their neighbourhoods are smashed by the shelling of two victorious armies. For example, in Donetsk the Ukrainian army "gloriously" killed seven passengers in a minibus, including a kid. In Uman, the Russian army "achieved targets" of the so-called special military operation, ruined a condo and murdered 23 residents, 6 children.

These recent "victories" are wrong, and they are the result of wrong commemoration of past "victory." It is wrong that Putin, Zelensky and their backers, cynical geopolitical gamblers of the East and West, could perpetuate the war forever and the myth of victory they invoke face no criticism among the people intoxicated by advertising of war in the media wing of military industrial complex, which plunders popular welfare, profits from death and misery.

We need the very thing disastrous for the merchants of death and their political clienteles on both sides of the frontline. We need ceasefire and peace talks. Putin must stop his war of aggression. Lukashenko should not be Putin’s accomplice in the war of aggression. Zelensky must consider diplomatic and nonviolent ways to defend Ukraine instead of bloodbath. It is common sense.

But dictators and militarists don’t listen to common sense. They attack. People mean nothing to them, only the offensives matter. They haunt communities violently conscripting people, turning civilians into cannon fodder against their will to bury the enemy in avalanche of subdued bodies and hellish fire of guns.

No wonder the voice of conscience in the mind of every person says: no. No, for God’s sake! I refuse to kill! If only people listen... When all people will refuse to kill, there will be no wars. But for now it is taboo, it is a crime, and war resisters are repressed. The Ukrainian army denies freedom of conscience and alternative service. Draft evasion in Ukraine is punishable from three to five years of prison, desertion from five to twelve years behind the bars.

Nevertheless, we continue nonviolent resistance to militarism and war. We defend human rights. I invite you and the German political class to insist that if Ukraine aspires to become part of the European family it must respect human rights, including the right to refuse to kill. I invite you and German media to attend the Ukrainian Supreme Court’s hearings in closest landmark cases: the cassation complaint of the prisoner of conscience Vitaly Alekseenko seeking acquittal and release on 25th May, and the lawsuit of Andrii Vyshnevetskyi, a conscientious objector held in army on frontline, asking the court to order President Zelensky to establish a procedure of discharge from military service on the grounds of conscience.

One of the ways to resist the war is to go abroad, but even the students who prefer to study in European universities instead of rotting in trenches are prohibited from choosing a future of peace and hope. All men in age from 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving Ukraine, many people managed to escape illegally but some of them killed themselves seeking escape from war, frozen to death in the Carpathian mountains, drowned in Tisza river, and thousands were sent to the meat grinder directly from the border cities.

I urge you to support the #ObjectWarCampaign calling for protection and asylum to conscientious objectors and deserters from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The European Union must strongly reiterate respect for human right to conscientious objection to military service and to insist that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine must respect this human right too. Human rights constitute a basis of just peace.

This May, as every year, on the International Day of Conscientious Objection we remember all those who have established and maintaining the right to refuse to kill. 15th May is the most meaningful day of May. Let’s remember and celebrate it. This May, or next May, must not be a month of deadly and destructive victories. It must be a month of dignity and common sense, a month of hope, peace and love, in short, a month of conscientious objection.

Wish you peace and happiness.

Yurii Sheliazhenko: Greeting to May 15, 2023.

Executive secretary, Ukrainian Pacifist Movement; Board member, European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (Brussels, Belgium): Member of the Board of Directors, World BEYOND War (Charlottesville, VA, United States); Member of the Council, International Peace Bureau (Berlin, Germany); LL.M., B.Math, Master of Mediation and Conflict Management, shelya.work(at)gmail.com, +380973179326;