Ukraine’s fellow fighters next door

Belarus’s 2020 democratic uprising has served as both an example and as defense against Russian forces.

Maria Kolesnikova, one of Belarus' pro-democracy leaders, gestures a love symbol in 2020 after protests against pro-Russia authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

One reason Ukraine has stood up well against Russia is the example set in neighboring Belarus. Two years ago this month, millions of pro-democracy Belarusians protested against a rigged election by a longtime dictator under Moscow’s thumb. After a brutal crackdown, many have built a digital underground movement, keeping alive the vision of a sovereign and democratic country – especially among the regime’s soldiers.

As the Russian military soon discovered last February after using Belarus as a bridgehead to invade northern Ukraine, that spirit of democratic resistance was as much a foe as any weapon.

The initial Russian assault on the capital, Kyiv, faltered in part because of acts of nonviolent sabotage inside Belarus by a society transformed by the 2020 democratic uprising.

Belarusian activists slowed down Russia’s military transport, says Svetlana Tichanovskaya, leader of the Belarusian democratic movement. They also gave information to Ukrainian armed forces about the bases from which Russian missiles were being fired.

In addition, an estimated 1,500 people from Belarus have volunteered as soldiers in Ukraine to fight Russia. Belarusians know that if Ukraine triumphs over Moscow, that will weaken Moscow’s control over their ruler, Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarusians have kept up a nonviolent fight for their own freedom even as the war in Ukraine rages on. Despite the harsh repression, for example, groups of mothers place their children’s toys around the streets as symbols of defiance. The struggle, says Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, is “defined by small acts of humanity and courage.”

One of her co-activists, Maria Kolesnikova – who is now in prison as one of more than 1,200 political prisoners – said last year that the movement operates at a deeper level than street protests. “The most important thing is that we never deviated from our principles and values – the fairness of the law, kindness, respect and love,” she told the British think tank Chatham House.

No wonder few experts see Russia using Belarus again as a major military launchpad. The mental defenses are too strong.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Ukraine’s fellow fighters next door
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today