‘For Our Freedom and for Yours! ’ Oleksandra Matviichuk, Centre for Civil Liberties (Kyiv)
Yesterday the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties, which I head, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The people of Ukraine, many say, earned that prize and it makes me proud that this is what has happened. Volunteers play a key role in our organisation, and the Nobel prize was awarded not just to our team but to all the people who have worked with us these many years.
The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to all people in Ukraine who are now fighting for freedom in every meaning of that word.
- For the freedom to be a free and independent State;
- For the freedom to develop the Ukrainian language and culture;
- For the freedom to exercise our democratic choice and create a country where the rights of every individual are protected, the executive is responsible, the courts are independent, and the police do not beat up protestors at peaceful student demonstrations.
During the February 2014 Revolution of Dignity, the Centre for Civil Liberties initiated the Euromaidan SOS appeal, to help and support those persecuted for protesting, the few thousand who joined the protests across the country.
Popular support enabled our Centre to send mobile groups to document the war crimes committed in Crimea, and the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions after spring 2014.
Thousands of people around the world joined in our international campaign to #saveOlegSentsov, who was arrested by the occupying forces in Crimea. Demonstrations and other forms of collective protest were held in more than 35 countries, calling for the release of film director Sentsov and other political prisoners.
I would never wish anyone to live through a war. Yet that tough experience has enabled us to appear at our best: from the farmer who hooked up a Russian tank to his tractor and dragged it away, to our President who refused to leave the capital Kyiv. Today, as never before, we can appreciate what it means to be fully human.
For its systematic violation of the United Nations Charter, Russia must be excluded from the UN Security Council.
Over the past three decades Russia has repeatedly committed war crimes in Chechnya, Moldova, Georgia, Syria, Mali, Libya and Ukraine. The United Nations and its Member-States must stand up for the victims of those crimes and establish an International Tribunal to bring Putin, Lukashenko and all war criminals to justice.
Ukraine has never abandoned its people and continues to fight for the complete liberation of the occupied territories.
At the Centre for Civil Liberties, we are battling for the release of all held prisoner by the Russians. People like Server Mustafayev, a Crimean Tatar and coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity movement; military doctor Victoria Obedina who was separated from her four-year-old daughter during evacuation from Azovstal; Ludmila Guseinova who defended orphaned children during the occupation and was imprisoned for her pains; and thousands of other military and civilian Ukrainian prisoners.
We call on the international community to speak out on their behalf and help us to secure their freedom. Likewise, we call for the freeing of all political prisoners, punished for struggling against the authoritarian regimes in Russia and Belarus.
My entire 20-year experience of fighting for freedom and human rights has convinced me that such people exercise a far greater influence that they ever realise. All our achievements are down to them.
In closing I’d like to stress the importance of calling things by their rightful name.
A Russia that has not overcome its imperial past remains a threat to Ukraine and the world at large. The same is true of Belarus, where the Lukashenko regime occupies the country.
Ales Bialiatski, Valentin Stefanovich, Marfa Rabkova of the Viasna human rights centre in Belarus; Oleg Orlov, Svetlana Gannushkina, Alexander Cherkasov and Sergei Davidis from Memorial in Moscow – for me and for the Centre of Civil Liberties they are people with whom we have fought against a common threat for many years.
Today Ales Bialiatski is imprisoned, and Memorial has been banned.
We share a story of resistance to a common evil; we know that freedom recognises no borders and that human rights are universally important. It’s a story of the horizontal links rights activists have built between them. Invisible, perhaps, to the societies in which we live, those links affirm the freedom and defence of the people in a part of the world where a Cannibal-King is once again trying to dominate us all. Sooner or later, he will be defeated and then there will be peace.
Under no circumstances should the Nobel Peace Prize be regarded as part of the old tale of “fraternal nations”. This story is different. It’s the tale of an appeal I heard long ago from my teacher, the dissident and philosopher Yevhen Sverstiuk: “For Our Freedom and for Yours!”
8 October 2022
 The same words (For Our Freedom and for Yours) were written on a placard unfurled on Red Square in Moscow on 28 August 1968, in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Polish in origin, the slogan dates back to attempts by Poland to assert its freedom from the Tsarist Empire. On 15 March 2014, the words were prominently displayed (in Ukrainian and Russian) behind speakers at a march and rally in Moscow, protesting against the annexation of Crimea.