Olena Zelenska, architect by training, is a screenwriter and first lady of Ukraine. In a recent vogue interview, she highlighted the tenacity and ability of Ukrainian women to care for loved ones, go to work, and resist Russian military aggression in their homes and cities. Yet fear accompanies them as they give birth in bomb shelters and provide aid to injured neighbors as they seek refuge where safety is unlikely.
Zelenska created a Telegram channel for Ukrainians to share their personal stories of war so our world can quickly access testimonies of human resilience amid atrocities in Bucha, Mariupol and other towns ravaged by civilian deaths, rape, pillage and torture.
Zelenska shared how ordinary citizens can contribute to Ukrainians: “The main thing is not to get used to war, not to make statistics out of it. Keep protesting, keep demanding action from your governments. Ukrainians are like you.
Zelenska challenges us to resist alongside the Ukrainians, knowing that we are doing it from a geographical distance. How can our resistance make a difference for Ukrainians and others at risk? What does resistance look like here and now?
We can resist our habits of thinking of this war and other wars as intended, as a way of life. The Upsala Conflict Data Program defines war as “a conflict or state dyad that achieves at least 1,000 battle-related deaths in a specific calendar year”, including civilians and combatants killed in combat.
The Council on Foreign Relations identifies war in more than 20 regions in Mexico, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, ranging from civil conflicts to territorial disputes between countries.
War can be omnipresent, but this is not normal. The frequency and duration of wars cannot dull our commitment to human rights and freedoms for ourselves and others. War is not a sustainable practice, and the geopolitical and human wounds span generations of descendants.
While conflicts can end in real time, war can continue with traumatic reactions in civilians, warriors, economies and communities. Don’t get used to war being an integral part of our daily lives. Instead, resisting the belief and action that war is abnormal and unacceptable is the only option for resolving conflict.
“Resisting the belief and action that war is abnormal and unacceptable is the only option for resolving conflict.”
We must also resist the seduction of disinterest or indifference if we think war has nothing to do with our personal or national affairs. We learn and relearn that war anywhere affects us all. Our economy, access to resources and well-being are tied to war in other places.
The Council on Foreign Relations reports that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has wider ramifications for critical global cooperation on issues such as arms control, nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity, energy security and conflicts in countries like Syria and Libya. Don’t get used to self-interest and isolation. Use purchasing power and civic action with caution. Resist by intentionally living as a global citizen, contributing to local communities and the world in more sustainable ways.
We can resist through our democratic advocacy and decision-making process. We can ensure that our civic and political organizations represent our wishes to support Ukraine’s right to self-government and freedom from oppression. We can assess the work of worthy humanitarian organizations and contribute to efforts that respond to human needs and the passion of our hearts. We can insist that our elected officials work for a peaceful and just end to aggression and continue to support what citizens choose for themselves.
We can also create more protection systems for civilian victims of war, especially women, children, and the elderly and frail. The United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women adopted a resolution on women, peace and security in October 2000, affirming the increased participation of women in peacemaking, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. It calls on all parties to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, in particular rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict”. Although the UN made updates in 2004, our current media sources suggest that women and children are targeted and attacked in homes, shelters and evacuation corridors.
“Jesus refused to submit to systems that kept people, especially the vulnerable, from living more abundant lives.”
As we reflect on the last days of Jesus’ life, we see how foreign aggression has shaped his life and his community. The Roman Empire devalued the lives of Jews and other subjects and controlled them through physical domination, legal restraints, and collaboration with Jewish religious leaders and government officials. Jesus refused to submit to systems that kept people, especially the vulnerable, from living a more abundant life. He showed us “the things that make peace,” even though we don’t yet understand how to live those truths in our world.
In the meantime, we have a plumb line of love that keeps us on a higher level of care for ourselves and our world neighbors.
We can falter. We can get tired. But we can resist lowering our standards of love for our neighbor. We will not grow accustomed to anything less than the constant love of God.
Paula Mangum Sheridan taught social work at Whittier College and Loma Linda University. She has partnered with social work educators in Denmark and Finland to explore global social work practice. She is a licensed clinical social worker and supports voter accessibility and homeless rights in her community. She is a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California.
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