Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian civil society has spontaneously and courageously organized to counter the military occupation through hundreds of nonviolent actions, including civil disobedience, road blockades, civilian evacuation or communication campaigns. The report Ukrainian Nonviolent Civil Resistance in the Face of War, prepared by Professor Felip Daza within the framework of a joint ICIP and Novact project, examines the Ukrainian nonviolent civil resistance between February and June 2022 to identify the organizational dynamics and the characteristics of the different actions, their evolution and the impacts and supports they have achieved.
The document analyses 235 nonviolent civil resistance actions shown on an interactive map. It includes a set of recommendations addressed to governments and Ukrainian and international civil society to strengthen nonviolence to transform conflicts.
The work confirms that some resistance actions contributed to stopping the invasion in the country’s north and hindered the institutionalization of the military occupation in its early stages. Likewise, nonviolence has created conditions and strategies to maintain social cohesion and community resilience in the face of fear and uncertainty caused by the invasion. It has also strengthened local governance, thanks to the empowerment of social actors and better coordination with local authorities.
Organized civil society has also allowed the construction of a comprehensive system for the development of evacuation, transportation and relocation tasks for people affected by the violence. Likewise, the work of monitoring war crimes carried out by human rights defence organizations has prevented the legal defenselessness of the population and has empowered communities to report abuses.
According to the author of the report Felip Daza, “the nonviolent civil response of the Ukrainian people is a unique experience that can serve as inspiration for other armed conflicts, but above all, it is the seed to rebuild the country and weave regional alliances to stop the barbarity of war”.
Methodology and types of actions
The research is based on fieldwork on the ground, carried out between April 2 and 18, 2022, by the author Felip Daza and the photographer and camera operator Lorena Sopena.
During the stay, data and witnesses were collected from interviews with 55 political and social actors in the country, including representatives of public institutions, NGOs, activists, academics and religious institutions.
Information collection has enabled an interactive map with 235 verified and systematized nonviolent actions from February 24 to June 30, 2022. The registered steps are divided into three types: acts of protest and dissuasion (148), movements of nonviolent intervention (51) and measures of non-cooperation (36). The most numerous actions were protests, including demonstrations and public gatherings, registered above all in the country’s south, in the areas under Russian occupation, and during the first weeks of the invasion.
As of April, the demonstrations were drastically reduced due to the repression, with arbitrary arrests and kidnappings of activists. On the contrary, the resistance adopted a strategy based on covert actions, disobedience and non-cooperation. For example, initiatives such as hanging coloured ribbons in municipalities, communication campaigns via social networks, letters of resignation signed by Melitopol school directors, or some teachers’ refusal to teach with Russian programs stand out.
Nonviolent intervention actions became popular at the beginning of the invasion, with the blockade of Russian tanks by Ukrainian citizens and the construction of barricades. These actions had a direct impact, pushing back Russia’s military objectives. The report also notes that nonviolent civil resistance helped stop the invasion in the country’s north.
The report includes a list of ten recommendations for governments, organizations and civil society in Ukraine and internationally, including material and financial support for resistance actions, creating protection programs for activists and investigations of war crimes, or influencing the design of security that puts people and communities at the centre.
The Ukrainian Nonviolent Civil Resistance in the Face of War report has been published in the ICIP Reports collection as a joint project with Novact and with the collaboration of Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena and the German NGO Corridors. The work is available in electronic format in English, Catalan, Spanish and Ukrainian.