Tag Archives: nonviolent actions

Beautiful, strategic, and realistic – the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression

17 Mar
Do not panic! Organize!

Do not panic! Organize!

During the last 17 days – from the date of the Russian military aggression in Crimea (Feb.27) to the referendum on the peninsula (Mar. 16) Ukrainians have launched one of the most impressive civil resistance campaigns in the history of unarmed struggles with foreign military invasions and occupation. The richness and creativity of the actions that Ukrainians undertook matched their strategic value as well as a realistic assessment of the military strengths of the Ukrainian army vis-à-vis its Russian counterpart. There is also a strategy of not responding to provocations and maintaining a remarkable posture of restraint even in the midst of escalating confrontation – all in order to not give the Russian regime what it wants: a bloody pretext that could be used to justify a deeper military incursion of the Russian army into Ukrainian territory.

The strategic Ukrainian resistance consists of at least five types of actions:
– Building-up economic pressure on Russian companies
– Reaching out to the Russian civil society
– Unarmed defense pursued by the Ukrainian army
– Fostering unity among Ukrainian society in the face of a foreign invasion and relentless Russian propaganda
– Reforms of the state assisted by the mobilized Ukrainian society

The overall strategy of the unarmed engagement is based on the realistic (given the Russian military superiority), and often beautiful, nonviolent actions carried out by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens all over the country. In the last 17 days, these actions, among others, included:


  • There is a growing boycott of products made in Russia or imported from Russia into Ukraine. It is spearheaded by the same group of activists that led the boycott campaign against the financial and economic assets owned by the members of the Party of Region. Their Facebook page now has close to 60,000 members and they use their activist skills honed during the anti-Yanukovych campaign to lead the boycott campaign against Russia. One of the activists acknowledged that the boycott of Russian goods is much easier than the economic boycott of the Party of Regions – there is no need to convince people to do it and no one is worried about being fired. The activists-bloggers issued the call to boycott the Russian products and distributed the list of the Russian companies and goods, together with the Russian products’ bar code 046,  on the Ukrainian market. In Lviv, 7,000 “boycott flyers”‘ with the list of Russian products were distributed in front of the French supermarkets, Auchan. The flyers and activists warned that buying the Russian-made goods meant giving financial support to the occupant. The German supermarket chain, Billa in Ukraine, coincidentally began placing small national flags, including the Russian one, next to the price tags of the products on the shelves. Activists say this helps customers to quickly identify the countries where particular goods are from in order to help the boycott.  Flashmobs of “dead bodies” appear in the supermarkets to dramatize the need for the boycott of Russian goods so as not to “pay for the occupation and war.”  Some grocery stores are already reportedly offering discounts on the boycotted products, and there are still no customers willing to buy them.  Protesters on some roads in Ukraine encouraged drivers to boycott Russia’s second largest oil company, Lukoil and to stop using their gas stations. The passing drivers gave support to the picketing activists by pressing their car’s horns and flashing their car’s lights.

Reaching out to the Russian people and their rulers

  • An open letter from the Russian speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine was sent to President Putin rejecting his military intervention and stating that their interests do not need to be protected by another state. More than 142,000 people have signed, and the number is still rising. Ordinary Russian-speaking individuals in Ukraine issued their own public pleas to the Russian government and President Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine and respect their country’s territorial integrity. Russian citizens in Ukraine said in the videopost that they do not need to be rescued by Russia. Ukrainian Jews (a majority of whom are Russian speakers) issued an open letter to Putin in which they say that they “do not wish to be defended” by the Russian state and strongly oppose “sundering Ukraine and annexing its territory.”
  • Open letters were written and signed by Ukrainians of various professions, addressed to their Russian counterparts. The letter of Ukrainian cinematographers to their Russian colleagues with the call for solidarity stipulated the latter’s public response to state their opposition to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Famous Russian rock singers called for peace and friendship between Russians and Ukrainians. Well-known Ukrainian actors and writers posted their video appeals to Russians.
  • Ukrainian scholars and academic institutions issued a public appeal to their colleagues in Russia after the Russian parliament approved the military invasion of Ukraine. They expressed their deep concerns about the propaganda that sows disinformation about the situation in Ukraine and particularly the Russian speakers in Ukraine  while emphasizing cultural and historical ties between the Ukrainian and Russian people. They emphasized that there was no conflict over the language or culture. The language of science and education is the language of peace and cooperation. And they called on their Russian counterparts to influence the Russian government and to do all they can to prevent war between the two brotherly nations. In response, the representatives of the Russian academic and education community  expressed their solidarity with their Ukrainian colleagues and offered their support to the Ukrainian people in their efforts to achieve “freedom, democracy and social justice.” They also called on all Russian scientists, scholars, students and teachers to sign the solidarity letter.
  • Ukrainian artists and intellectuals publicly appealed to Russian artists and people of culture who expressed their support for Putin and his military intervention in Ukraine. The appeal countered Putin’s propaganda about the violent Maidan, discrimination against the Russian speakers in Ukraine and legitimacy of the referendum in Crimea. The appeal ended with the comment that those who support the occupation lose the moral right to ever walk on Ukrainian soil.
  • Ukrainian retired and serving soldiers are reaching out to Russian army officers with the appeal to not support military intervention in Ukraine. A Ukrainian writer sent an open letter to his colleague and former classmate from the military college who is now general in the Russian intelligence directorate and asked him to influence the decisions of his bosses so the blood of “your and our children will not be spilled.” In the last part of the letter he offers his classmate the examples of heroic actions by other soldiers who saved civilian population in past conflicts even though they knew they would face the consequences for their disobedience.
  • Odessa residents called Putin to let him know that they are doing just fine as Russian speakers in Ukraine and do not need special protection from the Russian government.
  • Ukrainians have reached out to their family members, friends and colleagues in Russia to explain the Russian regime’s manipulation of information about Ukraine and the situation of the Russian-speaking population that is neither discriminated against nor asking to be rescued by any external military intervention.

Nonviolent restraint of the Ukrainian army

  • Nonviolent defense is the official defense strategy of the Ukrainian government as far as its soldiers stationed in Crimea are concerned. According to Oleksandr Turchynov, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, the Ukrainian army in Crimea defends its military bases, equipment, and its ships without arms in order to not fall for provocations.
  • A Ukrainian army unit in Kerchi (in Crimea) organized an anti-war music concert. The Russian soldiers stationed nearby heard the concert. They said they liked the music. Fraternization “from a distance” between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers can also take on a more humorous quality like the encounter between a Ukrainian captain and a Russian vice-admiral. A Russian ship ordered the Ukrainian military frigate “Ternopil” to surrender. The response of the Ukrainian captain was,  “Russians do not capitulate.” When asked to explain, the captain said that he is ethnically Russian, but swore allegiance to defend the Ukrainian people and Ukraine, and he cannot break that oath. The Russian vice-admiral was reported to have said to his soldiers, “Learn [from this captain] how to serve with honor and dignity.”

The nonviolent restraint that the Ukrainian army and society have shown in the face of the armed invasion of Crimea, and the citizens’ campaign to reach out to their Russian counterparts and the general population have all paid off. Though the Russian population’s support for Putin remains very high — close to 70 percent – Russian society is not a monolith, and Ukrainians can seek potential allies there and rely on their support.

Civilians in Crimea loyal to Ukraine

  • Protests of 15,000 women and children all over Crimea were organized against Russian military intervention during a holiday that is popular  in both Ukraine and Russia – the March 8 ‘International Women’s Day’ (see the videos). The protesters created a human chain in protest against the Russian military intervention on the peninsula. At the same time on Maidan in Kyiv, women held a solidarity rally and wrote postcards with words of support for the Crimean women.

Referendum in Crimea- March 16

  • While the referendum in Crimea was taking place, a pro-Ukrainian protest in Dnipropetrovsk, on the east was organized in support of the Ukrainian people’s unity against the referendum.

National unity campaigns

  • At the beginning of March, the city councils of Odessa, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk condemned the Russian aggression. Solidarity and unity demonstrations were joined by several thousands of residents in Donetsk (10,000 protesters), and in Kharkiv and Odessa (20,000 protesters). These took place on March 2, March 4 and March 5 respectively. People sang patriotic songs and called for territorial integrity of Ukraine. Thirty one rectors of the universities in Kharkiv (the city traditionally close to Russia) publicly criticized the Russian military intervention. On March 9, 3000 Odessans crowded the famous Potemkin stairs in Odessa Port to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and sang the Ukrainian national anthem

Protests against the Russian military invasion

  • Thirty Odessan activists hung spaghetti on the front fence of the Russian consulate in the city to “thank” the Russian government for the anti-Ukrainian propaganda and to protest the lies. Spaghetti on the fence illustrated the Russian proverb of hanging noodles on someone’s ear to show they have been lying. Automaidan – active during the revolution against Yanukovych – organized auto-actions in Odessa on March 8, in front of the Russian consulate to protest the Russian military invasion.

Mobilized Ukrainian society pressures the new government to deliver while it also confers legitimacy on it

  • Activists and the police serve in joint patrols throughout the city to maintain the security on the streets. Activists also maintain the Maidan barricades and pressure the politicians to move Ukraine closer to the EU and to begin implementing needed socio-economic reforms. Automonitor – that emerged from Automaidan – picketed Verkhovna Rada to force her to deliver on her promises of effective work.
  • The Maidan civic groups (Euromaidan Public Sector and “New Citizen”) launched the “Intensive Reforms Package” initiative that brings together 120 experts and activists to work on the blueprint for reforms.
  • Maidan activist, Yegor Sobolev, heads the newly established Lustration Committee.

Check the article on nonviolent victory of the Ukrainian Maidan that includes examples of nonviolent actions that Ukrainians used to fight the Yanukovych regime.

Why did the Yanukovych regime fall? 5 crucial factors

23 Feb

Ukraine-Yanukovych-protestBy Feb. 21, the Yanukovych junta with its head vanished from Kyiv. The city was liberated soon after the agreement between the regime and the opposition (facilitated by three EU foreign ministers) was signed on February 21. Why did the disintegration of the regime happen if a couple of days earlier the authorities seem to be firmly in power, carrying out the largest repressions in the history of modern Ukraine?  According to my preliminary analysis the downfall of Yanukovych regime came as a result of five interrelated factors:

1) regime violence and repression have always backfired, galvanizing more and more Ukrainians to join resistance against the regime and making previous allies of Yanukovych in the parliament, administration and security forces defect him. It happened on Nov. 30 when the police beat up peaceful students. On January 16 when the regime introduced repressive laws and on February 19-21 when the interior security forces killed close to 100 people.

2) gradual defections of the members of parliament (‘deputies’) from the ruling Party of Regions occurred throughout the conflict. The defections increased their pace on Feb. 20 when 36 deputies from the Party of Regions joined the opposition in voting a law that undermined the repressive apparatus of the regime- the legislation ordered the total withdrawal of security forces from the streets and their return to barracks . This happened the day before the agreement between the regime and the opposition facilitated by the European foreign ministers was signed.

3) international sanctions (such as travel bans and assets freeze against some Ukrainian officials) by the EU and US became a reality on February 21 that made the defections of businessmen-deputies from the Party of Regions more likely.

4) the Ukrainian army refused to join the strife. The regime reassigned on Feb. 19 the chairman of the joint chief of staff to an administrative position in the presidential administration (the decision that essentially equaled a dismissal) while the deputy chairman of the joint chief of staff resigned on Feb. 20 in protest against the regime’s attempts to force the army to intervene. The authorities understood it cannot rely on the army to suppress the resistance.

5) people continued mobilizing and joining resistance throughout Ukraine. Ukrainians undertook a massive number of nonviolent actions that undermined the regime, spread the protest and facilitated defections. They blocked the train with 500 troops from Dniepropietrovsk to Kyiv in the crucial days on Feb. 20-21; locked down the police facilities to prevent security forces from leaving them; continued organizing peaceful demonstrations in towns and cities across the country; led mass funerals for killed protesters; called for and staged economic boycotts; blocked highways to stop movement of thugs; blocked airports; seized government buildings in the regions; run parallel political, and administrative institutions; set up neighborhood watch groups; publicized government repression that showed how disproportionate it was to any threats posed by the protesters; called out the security forces and the army in the Ukrainian cities to declare they were with the people; and with the help of the Ukrainian diasporas Ukrainians won a significant international solidarity and media attention around the world.

Maxims on Civil Resistance part III

12 Oct
  • Fighting dictatorships is like defying gravity. Unless these regimes are already upside down.
  • We read a lot about violent collapse of Yugoslavia and find nonviolent dissolution of Czechoslovakia boring and no newsworthy.
  • Nationalism is a slavery to an infallibility of the state. Patriotism is the liberty to disobey that state.
  • All dictators are the same. They are boring, ugly and smell like death. Civl resistance that challenges them must be witty, beautiful and infused with life.
  • Coalition building in civil resistance is a cooker of ideas and mixture of positive tensions. Skill is to use these vibes to weave unity.
  • Engagement in civil resistance builds our skills and expertise. This is why, regardless of the eventual outcome, we are better citizens if forged in civil resistance fire.
  • Violence on the part of the movement’s radicals consolidates the opponents as much as it polarizes movement’s supporters. A tactic that unifies the movement and divides the opponent is strategically best option for resisters.
  • Prefigurative powers of civil resistance are reflected in collective acting by people as if their freedom was already here.
  • How existence becomes resistance? When the life is affirmed and the goal of self attainment and community empowerment is being realized by locals despite domestic or foreign  oppression.
  • Dictators are not as strong as they believe they are. Their material powers have little force when faced with organized and disciplined people.
  • People are not as weak as they think they are as long as they strategize and gauge smartly risks and benefits of their political actions.
  • Do the movements fail or do they just not succeed yet? For many successful movements their initial failures paved the way to the ultimate victory.
  • Victims must be their own liberators. Seemingly disempowered hold the key to their own liberation if only they unlock their collective powers.

Maxims on Civil Resistance part II

Maxims on Civil Resistance part I