Ukrainian civilians must be pivotal in any solution to looming Russian attack

February 11, 2022

According to PAX, any solution to the looming Russian attack on Ukraine has to be centred around the Ukrainian people.  The political and public debate on the situation in Ukraine is now focused primarily on geopolitics. More attention should be given to the interests,  wishes and concerns of the Ukrainian people. 

Oleksandra Matviichuk is a defender of Ukrainian human rights and, like PAX, a member of the CivilM+ platform, which is dedicated to resolving the conflict in the Donbas region. Oleksandra says: ‘It feels somewhat surrealistic to me, as it does to so many others. On the one hand we’re preparing for a potential armed attack by Russia, and on the other hand we maintain ongoing projects. Which is what we must do, as we can’t let the threat of war determine our lives.’ 

Ukrainian government keeps its cool 
In PAX’s opinion, the Ukrainian government must continue to play a leading role. It is quite remarkable how it is maintaining its composure. This is definitely helping to prevent further escalation. As for the international community, it must actively involve Ukraine in all meetings and negotiations on its safety.   

Further invasion will put Ukrainian citizens at risk 
If Russia extends its invasion of Ukraine, this will again constitute a flagrant violation of international law. It would be another step in Russia’s aggression towards sovereign neighbouring countries. In 2014, it already violated Ukrainian territory with its annexation of Crimea and in its active organisation and support of uprisings in the Donbas region. Since then, there has been a war situation without any let-up.    

A violent Russian attack against Ukraine would immediately jeopardize the lives of millions of Ukrainian civilians. That could mean subjugation of parts of Ukrainian territory, or even its capital Kyiv. PAX points out that even less serious military deployment, such as cyber attacks or supporting the rebels in the Donbas region, would mean a gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  

Anna Timmerman, PAX’s general director, says: ‘A war would present huge risks for the entire region; the violence could continue for a long time, with large groups of people fleeing in search of refuge. The presence of ammunition and land mines would also threaten people’s safety for a long time afterwards. A conflict in an industrial area such as Eastern Ukraine would also entail major environmental risks.’  

Diplomacy and economic sanctions 
According to PAX, the Dutch government and the European Union should focus their efforts on protecting civilians and enforcing international law. The international community and the EU must do everything in their power to prevent escalation. First and foremost, PAX puts the emphasis on diplomacy as a means of preventing war. In addition, Russia should have to pay dearly for any further invasion of Ukraine. One possibility could be the imposition of more severe economic sanctions, such as refusing to allow the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to open.   

PAX’s peace work in Ukraine  
PAX has been active in Ukraine for many years, engaging in peacebuilding work along with its Ukrainian partners and civilians. The Peace Engineers, who were co-trained by PAX, can mediate in local conflicts and contribute to arms control and civilian protection. ‘We have built up a large network of peace workers who know from their own experience that dialogue can also resolve deadlocked conflicts,’ says PAX’s project manager Cinta Depondt. 

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