The Russian aggression against Ukraine lasting for over a year has put all the region on the brink of a great war. One of the possible ways to avoid that war is a direct refusal of people to take up arms.  It’s not surprising that the governments are categorically resistant to such position of their citizens. Therefore, to become a conscientious objector or a deserter requires huge personal and civil courage.

On March 3, 2023, a very unusual for Eastern Europe, yet very important event took place: an international webinar, devoted to the rights and problems of conscientious objectors and deserters from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Over a hundred different initiatives and NGOs from the whole world, from Europe to Africa, participated in the webinar.

Three speakers were presented at the international webinar. The first one, Elena Popova, represented the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia. She spoke in detail about the problems of Russian men who are trying to avoid mobilization and conscription to the army, and showed specific examples she is working with. The second speaker was Olga Karach, the head of the human rights organization Our House. She spoke about the issues of Belarusian conscientious objectors and deserters, including amendments to the Criminal Code of Belarus, that provide for death penalty for high treason (which can be applied also to desertion) and up to five years of imprisonment only for helping a deserter.

Olga Karach also provided very specific recommendations: she spoke about what the international community can and should do to defend the right of the Belarusian men not to take up arms and to refuse to join the military.

Also, a Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko spoke about a case of a conscientious objector who refused to join the army for religious reasons and was put to prison for that. Besides that, Yurii Sheliazhenko showed dramatic examples from the current events in Ukraine when a mobilization in a country at war causes real family tragedies.

That very important webinar lasted for two hours, it was held in English and was translated into four languages. It was not a surprise that the participants had a lot of questions: the topic is very painful for the whole region of Eastern Europe. The webinar was held by a coalition of international human rights organizations united to fight for the rights of conscientious objectors and deserters from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine in the framework of the campaign #ObjectWarCamaign.

The next webinar will be devoted to Belarus and the possible participation of the Belarusian army in the war against Ukraine, as well as to the problems of Belarusian conscripts.