31 August 2022
by Fergus Wright
In PATRIR’s offices in Cluj-Napoca, a division is working to identify non-violent, anti-war groups inside Russia and Belarus. This project is hoping to create the foundations for solidarity, cooperation, and coordination between these geographically dispersed groups. In unprecedented times, this project is original, forward thinking, and should serve as an example to other organisations that seek to bring about a peaceful end to the war in Ukraine.
It is March 31st in Cluj, the historical capital of Romania’s Transylvania region. I am on my way to meet the president of the Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR), Kai Brand-Jacobsen, and some of the team members and volunteers working on the All for Ukraine Humanitarian Response project. The project has certainly captured the imagination of Cluj. A large LED billboard in Cluj’s Unirii Square is emblazoned with the Ukrainian flag and the words “All for Ukraine”, reminding the residents, tourists, and state officials of the urgency surrounding this crisis, plus the necessity of PATRIR’s work in responding to it.
There is a dedicated team of volunteers in the project working long hours to ensure that key pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, and other vital supplies are sourced, organised, and delivered by a ginormous network of HGVS and vans into areas of Ukraine worst affected by the Russian invasion. The resolve and ingenuity of this team is impressive, especially in the face of some of the dispiriting stories I hear of corrupt soldiers and roaming bandits clearing out entire vans of supplies in and around the battle zone.
The humanitarian team is passionate, fiery, and unflappable, no-doubt. Yet, behind them is a smaller, quieter, group working on something rather unusual but full of potential. I speak with some of the team members, and discover they are focused on identifying and monitoring anti-war groups inside Russia and Belarus. This smaller project seeks to establish the foundations of what may well turn into an anti-war network; one that hopes to emphasise anti-war solidarity, to share resources and information between these groups, and to coordinate these groups.
There is a need for a network like this more than ever. Concrete information on anti-war sentiment inside Russia and Belarus is becoming increasingly difficult to access for anti-war groups looking from the outside-in. Direct action inside these nations has become increasingly difficult; the flurry of protests that defined the early days of the war in Russia subsided as the number of arrests skyrocketed, and organisers fell under heavy state surveillance by the state. Expressing anti-war sentiment in person, as the case of Marina Ovsyannikova demonstrates, can lead to job loss or even arrest. Even the mere act of expressing anti-war opinion online has become a dangerous game when the Kremlin can activate its heinous troll army or extensive surveillance powers against private citizens.
It is only through supplying vital information and resources to anti-war groups inside Russia and Belarus as well as coordinating actions and demonstrating solidarity with those anti-war groups that they can be most effectively sustained and assisted. The activities of one individual or even one organisation can sometimes have outsized impacts, but what I saw was that PATRIR demonstrates the power of the group will be far more effective in bringing about an end to war than the individual. More organisations seeking a peaceful end to the war should look to this project as an example.