Riccardo Bonacina: Ukraine has been silent for too long

Piotr Dziubak, (KAI Rome): How was the “March for Peace” in Kiev? Participation in such an event in Kiev is not part of everyday life.

Riccardo Bonacina: On St. Benedict’s Day, in the Kiev City Hall, in the Columns Hall, the Italian delegation, together with Ukrainian organizations, met with the city authorities, with Mayor Witalij Kliczko, with Deputy Mayor Maryna Khonda and with the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine Archbishop Visvaldas Kulboka’s. The mayor thanked us very much for this initiative and also emphasized that it was possible to organize it despite the lack of possibilities to guarantee the safety of the participants. You have made a proactive choice and, as Europeans, you have started to visit other Europeans, emphasized the mayor of Kiev.

It is important that our societies become close, that they learn to work together. That was the thrust of the invitation from the mayor of Kiev. Klitschko encouraged the people of Europe not to sit on the couch and just watch the war, but to be active, to act, to look for solutions to this war, also to demonstrate in front of Russian embassies.

The mayor of Kiev encouraged the establishment of cooperation between different institutions in Ukraine and Italy. The result of this encouragement is a letter from Witalij Kliczka to the Association of Italian Cities. I trust that partnerships between Italian and Ukrainian cities will be supported. The Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine said to us: you call yourselves “the European nonviolent movement”. Acting nonviolently is also my way of acting, it is the method of the nuncio as a preacher and as a diplomat. Don’t be afraid, continue your project. Don’t be afraid of falling.

The nuncio pointed out that if you do something, you must be able to face problems. Every time you have to start with more creativity and perseverance.

The nuncio also mentioned that the choice of date for the March of Peace, July 11, is of course not accidental, as it is the day when we see St. Benedict, one of the patrons of Europe. He pointed out that the initiative awakens the spirit of unity in at least three aspects: a united and solidarity-based Europe, of which Ukraine is also a part, peace-building and prayer to God to grant us reconciliation and peace. I will not hide that the words of the nuncio gave us encouragement and courage.

Subsequently, representatives of Ukrainian associations, youth movements and representatives of museums took the floor, who are struggling with enormous problems with the conservation of works of art. In the afternoon, the National Museum of Ukrainian History, now inaccessible, was specially opened, where the Italo-Ukrainian working groups could continue their conversations. An important topic that we talked about a lot was how we can provide psychological help to children to help them recover from the trauma. That is why we develop structured help for them. Now that we are returning to Italy by bus, we are completing the editing of the documents that we will send to Ukraine. They should become a kind of compass for further joint activities.

IAC: Did you manage an episode together?

– We have decided not to fly to Krakow by plane and then continue to Kiev by train. We wanted our trip to Kiev to be a little tiring, a little difficult. We opted for the bus and a very long journey. In Kiev, for security reasons, we walked from our hotel to City Hall, where practically our entire event took place. There is war in Ukraine, so we literally couldn’t make a demonstration.

IAC: Did the reality after arriving in Kiev somehow verify your project or your previous attitude?

– What has been achieved in Kiev has completely exceeded our expectations. The cordiality and hospitality of the Ukrainians was a pleasant surprise. Everything was organized and yet there is war. Who would have expected that there would be a welcome buffet or that a museum would be opened especially for us so that we could work with the Ukrainians? We were completely surprised by the prospect and the opportunity to work together, both there in Kiev and now.

We didn’t come up with predefined projects. Rather, we wanted to find ways to collaborate, and we succeeded. Now we must continue with what we agreed in Kiev, we must develop and put into practice this joint initiative. I would like 2-3 partnerships between Italian and Ukrainian cities to be established and Italian universities to be mobilized to better understand Ukrainians and help protect their cultural property. Maybe we can start with virtual exhibitions, for which Kiev is happy to provide us with materials.

IAC: Are Italian media reports about Ukraine free of traces of pro-Kremlin propaganda?

– In recent months we have been to Ukraine many times, not only in Kiev, but also in Lviv and Czernichów. These trips allowed us to get to know the real situation of the war, including the brutality of the Russians. On Sunday evening, as soon as we got to the hotel, the sirens blared and we were in the shelter all evening. On Tuesday, at 4 o’clock, we also had to run to the shelter. This is unfortunately the reality there. But Kiev was again full of residents, there were many young people on the streets.

Everyone asked us very much to inform the public about what is happening in Ukraine, to talk about it. Unfortunately, Italy was quite prone to Russian propaganda. Unfortunately, we also had a Kremlin spokesperson on prime time television. You have to work on the quality of the information.

IAC: Even before the march in Kiev, you drew attention to the difference between ideological pacifism and one genuinely concerned about building peace…

– In Ukraine you can meet radical pacifists. We invited them to participate in our March. However, their participation was marked by a very strong ideology, which created an almost uneasy atmosphere. The statements were provocative. We know very well the difference between ideological pacifism and a pacifism that seeks to build peace, not only in theory, but also in concrete action.

IAC: Do you remember anyone’s story from Kiev?

– This is the story of Tatiana, who comes from Donetsk. She told us that she was now devoting all her time to this project because she had been passive for too long, just watching what was happening around her as the war unfolded. We should have acted sooner – she said. Here’s what Europe should say, as it stood still and watched what happened in Ukraine in recent years. The war in the form we see began on February 24, but in fact – in 2014. What the Ukrainians had to deal with for so many years was buried by the lack of media attention, the indifference of Europe and politicians. The involvement of Tatiana, who declares that she must now write and talk about what is happening in Ukraine, should be an example for all of us.

IAC: Before the war, Ukraine was seen as a very corrupt country where institutions did not function. Now, during the war, the Ukrainians show the world their great commitment and talent to defend their country. For example, despite the bombings, the Ukrainian railways are still in operation.

– We were very surprised by the cleanliness of Kiev and the care with which the city is cleaned every day. You could say that many things even sparkle. And we are talking about the capital of a country at war. I didn’t expect such a thing at all. This is an example for us that you can.

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