SHE TALKS PEACE: Is Ukraine a Chess Pawn?

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 06 Feb) — What is going on in Ukraine?  Will Putin wage war soon?  Is Europe at risk of what essentially will be another world war?  

Today on “She Talks Peace,” we had a first-hand look at the Ukrainian situation from the point of view of a citizen.  Nina Potarska,  the National Coordinator for Ukraine of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), had earlier sent me a statement which severely criticized the actions of the powerful: “This is not security. This is the madness of patriarchy and militarism. A failure to act for peace in Ukraine, after the appalling failures to act on Afghanistan, will confirm that after decades of abuse by the P5, the UN system, as it is now structured, is almost irredeemable.” P5 refers to the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Nina believes that the powerful do not see the needs of people, that the rhetoric of war is causing  the problems. The WILPF statement cites: “Sometimes it seems that we speak different languages ​​and exist in different worlds with officials. They often fail to see the link between domestic violence and women’s economic independence, between funding kindergartens, and women’s opportunities for full-time employment.”

I  have been in touch with a former classmate from Harvard, and he believes that President  Volodymyr Zelensky really is trying to bring down the tension level which has been scaring away investors and cash flows.  Sergy said: “Nobody knows what Putin’s Russia will or will not do, but Ukrainian currency has lost several percentage points to dollar last week, and it’s disturbing impact, for the president as well.  Nonetheless there are intelligence reports that Russia brings mobile hospitals and blood banks to the border and nobody likes it either. US, UK, Australian embassies evacuate their staff’s families… Wait and see….”

Meanwhile, Nina – whose responsibilities had focused on supporting women activists and  active women’s groups as well as monitoring the women’s rights situation, particularly at the frontline zone – is spending most of her time advocating for the security of Ukrainian women both at UN and local level.  Even as she and other women worry about their families.  Recently, there was a bomb scare at the school of Nina’s daughter.  She has doubled her attempts to lobby with her government leaders as well as world leaders to come back to genuine dialogue and stop treating the Ukrainians as pawns in a global chess game.

Nina and the WILPF have spent much time and resources, over the past decade, to empower women to engage their leaders on issues such as political participation, women’s rights, economic opportunities, human security.  Recently, they have been prioritizing training on what to do should there be an attack and dealing with trauma and insecurity.  Still, Nina encourages women to speak up.  However, she says that public discussion is only possible when people feel safe. The current situation prevents them from expressing their opinions out loud in some parts of Ukraine, as some parts are dominated by pro-Russia elements and others by pro-democracy leaders.   Many of these groups, particularly in the frontlines, are armed.  So Ukrainians keep their opinions to themselves, in order to survive.

Their lobby effort against armed conflict is not a recent one.  In October 2019, Nina took part in the“Women’s Dialogue without Borders” action on the bridge at Stanitsa Luhanska.  The bridge was symbolic, as thousands cross the bridge daily, past checkpoints of pro-Russia and pro-democratic Ukraine citizens, putting their lives at risk.  In staging the dialogue on the bridge, Ukrainian women from both political sides wanted to reach out to both sides to abandon armed conflict and move to peace talks.  

Since that event, the mood in Ukraine tilted towards de-escalation.  That mood didn’t last. Tension has escalated tremendously among citizens, with the escalation of war talk in the media.  

Does the Ukrainian situation seem familiar to any of you?  Does it take you back a couple of decades, when women, religious and traditional leaders braved the checkpoints to lobby government and liberation fronts to support Zones of Peace?  We have suffered and we have learned to prevail in our advocacy for peaceful resolution of conflict.  But we were luckier than Ukraine – many countries supported the peace processes of the Philippines with armed groups.  Do the Ukrainians have powerful partners who have taken the citizens’ side and called out for dialogue among the powerful actors?

According to the news, Russia has in place 2/3 of the combat power it requires to invade Ukraine – and more coming.  

A Swahili proverb says: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.  But then, there is another  – a Russian one – that says “Eternal peace lasts only until the next war”.  

I prefer Eleanor Roosevelt’s view: ““It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”  And so Nina and the Ukrainian citizens, who dream of life going back to normal, must work at it – with or without help from the outside. 

Do listen to peacebuilder Nina Potarska share her hopes and fears for Ukraine, her home. 

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(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy).

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