KYIV, Ukraine – Human rights defenders in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are honored at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Saturday.
The winners — Memorial, a Russian organization; the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine; and Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarusian activist, became symbols of resistance and responsibility in Europe’s biggest ground war since World War II, sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They have also become the main opponents of the widespread disinformation and harmful myths spread by authoritarian rulers.
The Nobel committee’s decision to team up a Ukrainian civil society organization with human rights defenders from Russia and Belarus – two of the country’s abusers – prompted an initial reaction in Ukraine when the prize was announced in October. Some saw it as an affront to those who have worked to protect Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country in February.
Founded in 2007, the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine was chosen with Memorial and Mr. Bialiatski for its actions which “demonstrate the importance of civil society for peace and democracy”. Mykhailo Podolyak, senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, issued a scathing critique of the Nobel committee shortly after the award was announced, saying he had an “interesting understanding of the word ‘peace'”.
“No Russian or Belarusian organization was able to oppose this war,” he said in a statement.
Nobel committee chairman Berit Reiss-Andersen said before the ceremony that the prizes were awarded to send a signal that the conflict in Ukraine must end.
“Sometimes an effort for peace falls to civil society and not to the ambitions of the state alone,” she said. “Peace is a wish and an achievement that comes with a value that all laureates work towards: fighting atrocities, war crimes and the rule of law.”
She said disregard for those values was at the heart of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Precisely in these times it is a very important reminder,” she said.