Photo Credit: R. D. Barry
Pope Francis

As Odessa was plunged into darkness following a barrage of Russian missile strikes, Pope Francis in a special Easter message pleaded not to “yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with weapons but with outstretched arms and open hearts.”

He added: “In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.”

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Pope Francis’s Easter message came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had proclaimed, “When we live in a chaotic world, it’s very important to stick to principles and the principles are clear: the UN Charter, international law, and the territorial integrity of countries and international humanitarian law. That is the reason why we believe that it is essential to have peace for the Ukraine.”

Recently, the Greek Parliament hosted a conference on ways to achieve peace in Ukraine titled “Ukraine: the search for a peaceful resolution of the military conflict.”

This conference was in line with the Secretary General’s call for peace, as he noted, “Beyond condemnations, we the United Nations must actively work toward a comprehensive, just and sustainable peace in line with the charter of this organization.”

The Assembly’s President called for “redoubling efforts to end wars and usher in a future of hope, promise, and prosperity for the people in Ukraine and Russia, alike.”

Manel Msalmi, president of the European Association for the Defense of Minorities, stressed: “The UN Secretary-General called for peace in Ukraine because there is a big concern regarding children’s mental health and school dropouts. Children have stopped attending school for the past two years, which has a big impact on their education and their future. Education is a necessity and a human right according to the UN Charter and Ukrainian children should go back to school like their European peers.”

Chris Palusky, UCR Response Director, proclaimed, “Ukrainian children have not only lost their homes and schools; they’ve lost their sense of safety and security. They’ve lost their fathers and family members to the frontlines. Two years on, as children continue to cope with trauma upon trauma, we continue to call for peace, believing it to be possible. War has shattered the lives of the Ukrainian people, but it has not broken their hope.”

Msalmi proclaimed, “The future of Ukrainian children like all children who suffer from war is very insecure. These children will not have access to education for so many years, which is also the case in conflict zones like Syria and Yemen. They end up lost after dropping out of school for so many years. The decision-makers should think about the future of the new generations and guarantee their access to education and the job market as well as their wellbeing.”

She quoted Aristotle, who said, “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be kept by understanding,” and added, “In this women’s history month, it is important to highlight the struggle for women and girls in Ukraine and their desperate need for peace and security. The conflict has caused the Ukrainian people immense pain over the last twelve months, resulting in millions of people being displaced, thousands of deaths, and the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure.”

Msalmi noted that women and girls in Ukraine are “suffering greatly from increased gender-based violence and human trafficking, as well as from losing important sources of income and seeing an increase in poverty. Many people no longer have access to survivor services, healthcare, and other vital types of assistance due to the widespread loss of infrastructure.” According to her, “These days, helping the approximately 18 million Ukrainians in need and safeguarding civilians must continue to be the primary concerns. Human rights violations including the alarming rise in sexual assault need to be looked into and victims need to have justice.”

Ilhan Sabri Ahmed, a representative of Greece’s Muslim community, declared: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the raw dispute of the borders and the international treaties, the imposition of the right of force at the expense of international law, the use of minority population groups within Ukraine and its de facto division, are actions that cannot be justified by any perspective. As a representative of the Islamic minority, my goal has always been peace and the isolation of extreme elements of all ethnic, religious, and ideological beliefs. We always try to have a good relationship with our Christian fellows in our common home, which is Greece. We follow the path of cooperation and discussion. No path is paved with pedals, for minorities. Barriers, prejudices, memories, the feeling of unfulfilled desires and goals are not easily overcome.” But still, he feels that the Russians in Ukraine should work to overcome these obstacles, like the Muslim community in Greece has.

Greek MP Athanasios Papathanassis proclaimed at this event that “Ukraine has been the bridge between Europe and Russia, and the desire for its control and influence has led to geopolitical confrontations with a global impact. I have always supported a diplomatic solution, a diplomatic solution is based on the liberal and Western way of thinking, which goes against the authoritarian. In this disastrous context, collective effort and diplomatic flexibility are necessary for promoting and establishing peace. The global community has to unite so that pressure can be applied to all parties involved to peacefully solve all differences and to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity. The end of hostilities will contribute to the achievement of economic stability on a global scale.”

Athens’ deputy mayor Elli Papageli added: “Peace is something that happens through dialogue and diplomacy, not military conflict.” MP Alexander Markogiannis concurred: “The prospects for peace can only be achieved through guarantees to the Ukrainian people that no more regions will be annexed in the future and to protect minorities. Peace may be our wish but it will be their choice. Peace in the Ukraine can only be decided by the Ukrainian people. The road is too long but we will support the Ukrainian people in their journey towards peace.”

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Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."