As courageous Ukrainians and Russian antiwar protesters resist Putin’s brutal war, we can do far more to support pro-democracy activists and movements.

By Maria J. Stephan, Waging Nonviolence

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war — which has brought terrible humanitarian suffering, as war inevitably always does — have given the world a moment of profound moral clarity. We are witnessing the consequences of a delusional authoritarian and his enablers, doing what authoritarianism does best: trample on human rights and human dignity, allowing the few to cling to power at the expense of the many. Meanwhile, courageous resistance by Ukrainians and Russian antiwar protesters has shown us the alternative, and what it means for David to battle Goliath on the world stage.

At a time when global democracy watchdog Freedom House has documented a 16-year decline in democratic freedoms in the United States and around the world, and civil resistance scholars have identified a significant decline in the overall effectiveness of nonviolent campaigns globally, we need to step up our game. Now, more than ever, is the time for a doubling down on democratic solidarity around the world.

he sign STOP War in the crowd with Ukrainian flags at the antiwar protest in the centre of downtown

Watching Putin violently seek to reconstitute czarist Russia has brought me back to the summer of 2002, when I was living in St. Petersburg and working with a chapter of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization — a human rights group with affiliates across the country. Their work focuses on abuses committed by and against members of the Russian military. I was there right after the second Chechen war, and my work involved translating reports about the war crimes committed by Russian forces in Chechnya from French into English. Another part involved visiting Russian military hospitals and barracks, and meeting with young Russian conscripts who had been brutally hazed by fellow soldiers and their commanding officers. Young Russians were frequently lied to, forcibly conscripted and then sent into war zones to become cannon fodder.

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