While the U.S. government bills the tension between Russia and Ukraine as “big bully annexing small sovereign state,” this view belies the complexity of the situation. Admittedly, Putin has broken international law. At the same time, the leaders of the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine took down a democratically elected government and are increasingly demonstrating fascist leanings. While the U.S. is citing international law to criticize Putin, our country has repeatedly broken international law by intervening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen without the backing of the U.N. security council. With U.S. oil interests in the mix, the seeds of war have been sown. Furthermore, the mainstream media waters and fertilizes the seeds of war.
In the midst of these flourishing weeds of war, is anyone sowing seeds of peace? Is anyone leading with soul? Thankfully, yes. Since 2004, Quakers have been quietly training people in Ukraine in nonviolence through the Alternatives to Violence Project. AVP provides the tools and training to help people defuse conflicts large and small. In the past ten years, AVP teams in Ukraine have worked in prisons, detention centers, orphanages, foster homes, and with the military. More recently, AVP facilitators worked with citizens on both sides of the conflict in Kiev, helping them see the humanity in one another in order to break the cycle of violence. As Alla Soroka, one of the facilitators reported:
Peacemaking now in Ukraine is expressed in a particular way. We are happy that people are aware of the power of peace, and they are patient—not with their heads hanging but patient and speaking out. All of us here are learning how to be free. I think it is possible to compare Soviet times with slavery. Previously, some people still believed in a good ruler and wanted him to resolve all their problems. I think for most people, this is a time of lost illusions, and there is a new understanding of the importance of actively creating the world we all want, in which to live and breathe freely! Most people understand that this is only achieved by peaceful means.”
Teaching peacemaking in Ukraine not only provides people with tools to douse the flames of war, but also helps bring about a much-needed cultural shift toward taking responsibility for creating a better world.
Which seeds will prevail? It depends on which ones we nurture. Will we buy into the simplistic view presented by the mainstream media, or will we support peacemaking efforts like AVP? Will we speak up when others promote the U.S. government’s party line? The weeds of war may appear numerous and hardy, while the flowers of peace appear few and fragile. But history has demonstrated (through South Africa and the Berlin Wall, for example) that the flowers of peace can flourish when patiently tended. Peace is possible. Let us choose to lead with soul and nurture the seeds of peace in Ukraine.