Christian pacifist jailed for refusing military service in Ukraine


Eastern Europe


A participant of a peace march demonstrates with tied hands and artificial blood in front of a Ukrainian flag under the motto ’Stop Russian Wars’. Photo EPA, Clemens Bilan

When Vitaly Alekseenko from Ukraine refused to fight in the war, authorities gave him no other choice but jail.

The 46-year-old considers himself a “Christian conscientious objector” and has asked for alternative civilian service as referenced in a report by Forum 18. However, the Defence Ministry keeps turning down his requests and has said that “alternative service does not exist in wartime.”

Alekseenko was taken into custody on 23 February and is currently serving a one-year prison term. That morning, police took Alekseenko for a medical examination and then to western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk’s Investigation Prison. Alekseenko may serve out his sentence in another prison, but it is unclear as to where that might be, the report said. According to Yurii Sheliazhenko, a secretary at the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, Vitaly is not giving up in his fight for peace despite the circumstances.


“Vitaly told me that he will read the Gospels and New Testament in prison and will pray for peace and justice and changes in Ukraine for the better,” he said.

Alekseenko has appealed to the Supreme Court in Kyiv. Although the case has been assigned, no dates have been set for a hearing. When asked why the Defence Ministry does not grant alternative civilian service to conscientious objectors at wartime, they said that alternative service is not available for everyone but only given to ten “specified religious communities.”


Alekseenko’s case goes back to as far as June when he was called to report to the Ivano-Frankivsk recruitment office. He explained to the recruiters that he could not bear arms because of his religious beliefs. His request for alternative service was turned down and sent to prosecutors. In September 2022, he was given the one-year prison term. However, when he appealed to the Ivano-Frankivsk Appeal Court on 16 January, they turned down his request. Less than ten days later, he received the court’s verdict that his one-year sentence would go into force. According to Alekseenko, if he had “repented” of his “crime,” the Court would have granted him a suspended sentence, which was still out of the question.

“I told the court I agree that I have broken the law of Ukraine.” But I am not guilty under the law of God. I want to be honest to myself,” he said.

Religious communities

When Forum 18 asked the recruitment office about Alekseenko’s case, an unnamed official said they were not familiar with his case and that they usually offer alternative service to those belonging to religious communities. However, he refused to give the exact number of those who had opted for this type of service.

Despite the numerous refusals given to Alekseenko, the army did allow a 33-year-old service member to work in a military kitchen. Andrii Vyshnevetsky also considers himself to be a conscientious objector. However, the Recruitment Office in Odessa has refused to disclose his case.

Cases are pending for six other conscientious objectors within Ukraine. They have been given an average of a 3-year suspended prison term for “refusing to call-up for military service during mobilisation or in a special period and for military service during call-up of reservists in a special period” as detailed in its Criminal Code Article 336.



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