Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression: What can civil society representatives do?

Victor Liakh
East Europe Foundation

Ilona Khmeleva
Ph.D., Program Coordinator
East Europe Foundation

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began in 2014. Crimea, as well as part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were occupied. Thousands of Ukrainians were killed, thousands of our citizens became internally displaced persons or refugees. Political persecutions, large-scale human rights violations, and torture have become commonplace in the occupied territories.

In accordance with the right to self-defense, enshrined in the Article 51 of the UN Charter, the Ukrainian armed forces have been defending our country since 2014. From the very beginning of the international armed conflict, the occupying army of the Russian Federation has been neglecting international humanitarian law, committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.

At the same time, Ukraine has consistently sought to resolve the conflict through diplomacy. Respecting the principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes (which is a peremptory norm of international law / jus cogens), Ukraine tried to hold negotiations at various levels. In particular, the Minsk process (negotiations in the Normandy format) began, and the Minsk arrangements were signed. However, the aggressor state did not adhere to any agreements. The most important part of the Minsk arrangements was the security component. Unfortunately, these provisions were never implemented due to the position of the Russian Federation.

With a view to increasing the effectiveness of the international response to the ongoing Russian aggression and achieving de-occupation of Crimea and full restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty over the peninsula, the Crimea Platform (as a new consultative and coordination format) was initiated by Ukraine. The Crimea Platform was launched at its inaugural summit on August 23, 2021, in Kyiv, and became one of the biggest diplomatic successes of Ukraine.

It is important that the Crimea Platform was based on several levels (governmental, parliamentary, expert). In fact, civil society has become the driving force behind this initiative, and the synergies of different levels of the Platform have made this initiative unique. That is why it was crucial for East Europe Foundation to join this process. In particular, the Crimea Platform Support Program was established, ensuring cooperation between state institutions, civil society, and international partners of Ukraine. The main goal of the Program was to provide support to the Crimea Platform Expert Network activities. The Program included such areas: 1) expert research; 2) expert diplomacy; 3) capacity building of the Crimea Platform Expert Network; 4) communication support to the Crimea Platform.

Unfortunately, efficient implementation of the Program was stopped by the Russian invasion. February 24, 2022 is a date that changed Ukraine forever. Russia has launched a full-scale aggression, bombing Ukrainian peaceful cities, killing civilians and destroying infrastructure. Thousands were killed and millions were forced to flee their homes. At the same time, Russian aggression united the entire Ukrainian people, and civil society became a reliable assistant and support for the Ukrainian army. Humanitarian aid, organization of arms supplies, documentation of Russian crimes – these are just a few of the areas in which civil society helps the state. East Europe Foundation also keeps working to support the country in these hard times. The Shelter Project, aimed at supporting IDPs (safe spaces, psycho-social support, reintegration, etc.) was launched. East Europe Foundation is also focused on the following areas: 1) building community resilience (the needs assessment and outline are under development); 2) introducing e-tools for community mobilization and emergency communication; 3) developing e-learning materials on the emerging issues. All Ukrainian civil society is united as never before. Our goal is the victory of Ukraine, as well as its successful development.

It can be predicted that after the war the civil society will focus its efforts on the following areas:

  • implementation of the legal responsibility of the aggressor state, ensuring justice, assisting Ukrainian authorities in preparing the appropriate legal framework for post-conflict settlement;
  • Taking an active part in community mobilisation activities during the recovery and development phase, namely:
    • facilitation of the restoration of destroyed infrastructure;
    • control (oversight and scrutiny) over the use of finances provided to Ukraine by international partners;
    • helping in establishing the best business environment in Ukrainian communities;
    • creation and promotion promoting the development of new small businesses and social entrepreneurship;
    • Continue to promote volunteering at various levels.

In general, civil society is making a vital contribution to Ukraine’s future victory. Today, Ukrainian civil society activists protect not only democracy in Ukraine, but also the freedom of Europe and the world.

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