Ukraine Peace Activists Protest During Zelensky White House Visit

Yurii Sheliazhenko

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit September 21 with President Biden at the White House today, on this International Day of Peace, was greeted by activists from World Beyond War along with nine other peace groups who protested the visit by calling for the dropping of all charges against Ukrainian peace activist Yurii Sheliazhenko.

Earlier in the week, the group delivered at petition to the Ukraine Embassy that called upon President’s Zelensky and Biden along with other Ukraine diplomats to uphold the rights of conscientious objection along with the right to freedom of expression.

The well-known Ukrainian conscientious objector, Sheliazhenko, who is a journalist, blogger, human rights defender, and legal scholar and does not support the war is opposed to both sides of the conflict. He serves in multiple roles as executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, a board member of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, and a council member of the International Peace Bureau.

The Kiev public prosecutor has accused Sheliazhenko of being “a Russian propogandist” and stated that they intend to stop him in that role. Activists point out that Ukrainian authorities have become increasingly “intolerant for dissent” in the ongoing war.

World Beyond War likens Sheliazhenko’s present situation of being charged as “… extremely common for war supporters to deny the possibility of opposing both sides of a war and to conclude that anyone who does so must actually support whichever side the war supporter opposes.” Sheliazhenko in a written statement characterized the charges brought against him as “fabricated from the motives of ideological hatred of pacifism.”

Organizers have made the demand that “Yurii’s rights to conscientious objection and free speech be respected by a nation that claims to be waging war for democracy and human rights.” They are also calling for the government “to drop any legal proceedings against Yurii Sheliazhenko and to respect human rights, the right to conscientious objection, and the right to freedom of speech. The absurdity of prosecuting someone for justifying Russian war making on the basis of a statement in which he has explicitly condemned Russian war making, is matched by the absurdity of waging war in the name of freedom and democracy while engaging in this sort of harassment of citizens.”

According to Sheliazhenko’s written statement, on August 3, a group of men unknown to him broke down the door of his apartment and announced that they were members of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). They said they had a search warrant which they provided to him and refused to wait for his attorney to be present before beginning their search while executing the warrant.

During the ensuing search of the apartment, they collected his electronic devices and other materials as part of their investigation over his objections. Sheliazhenko has claimed that “the materials and equipment that were found cannot be evidence of the commission of crimes on my part and also, taking into account the violations of my rights during these investigative actions, obtained illegally and have no evidentiary value.”

He further asserts the belief “…that this criminal proceeding is illegal, unlawful and politically motivated, a manifestation of repression against the peace movement.”

Sheliazhenko has made three demands in reaction to the criminal charges he is facing. That his human rights activities are not obstructed. That nothing be seized in which he said no “evidence of any illegal actions by me or anyone else was found during the search.” And that he be allowed the opportunity to review the charges brought against him.

On August 8 Sheliazhenko was placed under house arrest by a Kyiv District Court judge and confined to his residence from 10 pm until 6 am the following day, until October 11. The first hearing of his trial was to take place on September 20, but was postponed when the public prosecutor failed to appear in court and has now been rescheduled for October 3.

Activists at the protest stood outside the White House holding banners and signs informing passersby of the situation and calling upon President Biden to address the issue with Volodymyr Zelensky during their bilateral afternoon meeting in the Oval Office. A second group of activists were present at the nearby NW White House appointment gate where they were visible to staff and others who were entering and leaving the secure facility. They busied themselves by handing out information on the issue and engaged with those who wanted to learn more about the situation.

Photo by Phil Pasquini

(This article has appeared in Nuzeink)

Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.

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