United World Project

Workshop

A peace convoy from Italy reaches Lviv, Ukraine

By Carlo Cefaloni

The Italian delegation of Stop the War Now  experienced three intense days, as they travelled to Lviv to bring aid, assist the most vulnerable refugees and build the foundations of a closer relationship with the Ukrainian civil society. They carried out a disarmed mission in the midst of a war context. Reports by Giulio Boschi from Focolari Italia and Alfio Nicotra from ‘Un Ponte per…’

En route to Lviv. From 1st to 3rd April, a large network of Italian associations organised a mission in Ukraine, adhering to the proposal of the Pope John XXIII Community (also known as Apg23 in Italian) to open a direct link with the Ukrainian population, who is experiencing the consequences of an increasingly atrocious war.

The initiative promoted by the Pope John Paul XXIII Community has its roots in the Operazione Colomba, the nonviolent peace corps set up in the early 1990s, during the Balkan wars. At that time, a group of conscientious objectors organised a campaign to engage in civil disobedience in the Balkans to support the victims of the conflict. Those same volunteers took part in the ‘march of the 500’ which arrived in besieged Sarajevo in 1992, as Rosa Siciliano from Pax Christi recalls in an interview.

In the city of Lviv – located far from the Russian border but nonetheless affected by military attacks – Apg23 “have been ensuring their continuous presence since the beginning of the conflict, providing comfort and assisting people, especially the most vulnerable, in leaving the country. They use coaches and other vehicles to travel to the border and then to Italy, where these people will have a home to live in and a family to welcome them”.

The 60 vehicles with 220 people on board delivered tons of food aid and medicines, but the mission was not only humanitarian, like many other solidarity activities organised by Italian civil society.

This particular mission’s purpose was for the convoy of peace to promote a form of bottom-up diplomacy, through the encounter with civil society organisations as well as religious and civil authorities in Lviv.

This is why the convoy brought together people and organisations from different backgrounds. Among them, the NGO ‘Un Ponte per…’, particularly active in the Middle East and in the Balkans.  Co-President Alfio Nicotra had been to Sarajevo in 1992, and, 30 years later, he joined the convoy to Lviv. “I was one of the 500 pacifists who rallied in protest in besieged Sarajevo, and I relive that spirit today. Once again I feel that we are – as Tonino Bello defined us – ‘the UN of the people’, in contrast to the lethargy of the UN of the powerful”.

Watch his message in this video he recorded soon after he returned home, highlighting the need to intensify direct relations with the Ukrainian civil society who are resisting the logic of war.  

The Italian convoy followed a very tight schedule. It left Gorizia at 6am on 1st April and, that same evening, reached the Polish-Ukrainian border, which it crossed the following morning, 2nd April, at 6am, arriving in Lviv later that day and setting off again on Sunday 3rd April.

Here are some short audio and video-clips recorded during the mission by Giulio Boschi and Marco Reguzzoni, who joined the convoy from the cities of Bologna and Carpi as representatives of the Focolare Movement.

Despite an air raid alert – which was then cancelled – the Italian delegation marched through the streets of Lviv waving white flags, a symbol of the urgent need for peace in a scenario that raises fears of an increase in tensions with potentially uncontrollable effects. Within this contradictory scenario, a piece of our civil society took action: men and women who, through this march, declared that they did not want to be passive onlookers anymore, because, as they say, “we feel the need to get involved personally”.

The Bishop of Bari also joined the line of vehicles bound for Ukraine. At the end of the mission, he sent this message to the participants of the peace convoy:

“I think about you all as you travel back, carrying a ‘treasure’ of humanity that you are called to protect.  Thank you for the beautiful testimony you offered me during these fragments of shared time that have enriched me. I thank Gianpiero and the Pope John XXIII Community, and all the ‘diverse’ co-promoters, as Gianpiero himself defined them.

I apologise for not taking part in the march through the streets of Lviv yesterday, but I took part in a different kind of march, a visit to the bishops of the two other Churches, the Catholic one and the Russian Orthodox one, to share the same gift I gave the Auxiliary Bishop of the Greek-Catholic Church: the manna of St Nicholas, taken from the Saint’s body here in Bari – it was a moment of grace and fraternal communion.

Have a safe trip home and… ‘may your journey always be filled with peace’ (Samburu greeting from Kenya). Happy Easter to all”.

+ Father Giuseppe Satriano

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