Ukrainian activists in Berlin and Kyiv take on dystopic peace discourse with creative campaigning.
One of the rarely discussed expressions of Russian disinformation in Europe is the historic instrumentalisation of peace discourses for malign purposes. Ukrainians living in Germany today, many of whom came as refugees fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, see the latest iteration of these bad-faith arguments in premature calls for a negotiated peace while Russian shells are still falling on Ukrainian cities.
The Checkpoint Peace activism project, implemented by Ukrainian activists in Berlin and Kyiv and supported by the Centre, used public actions, satire, art interventions and euro-pop music—all threads pulled from the vivid fabric of Berlin life—to connect with the German public and expose these harmful narratives.
The name of the project, Checkpoint Peace, is both a nod to the history of Berlin and its famous Cold War checkpoints, as well as a conceit about how notions of peace are constructed, especially in Ukraine.
“Eastern Ukraine has had checkpoints since the first Russian invasion in 2014, and now they are everywhere across the country. They don’t remind you of peace, they are a symbol of war and violence, so it’s an ironic take”, said Checkpoint Peace project coordinator Diana Berg of Platform TU, an artist and activist collective from Mariupol. Founded as an art space in Mariupol in 2016, members now work from Kyiv and other free cities in Ukraine and the rest of Europe due to the Russian destruction and occupation of their city.
In addition to several live events in Berlin, Checkpoint Peace also created a video campaign that triggers immediate empathy with the Ukrainian perspective in the peace conversation, but indirectly through a creative approach. In a series of three videos, a common situation of abuse familiar to everyone is presented, and then the victim is forced to “make friends” with their aggressor. The scenarios are child bullying, harassment in the workplace, and theft, each set to a thumping 90s euro-disco track composed for the campaign that amplifies a painful irony when the metaphor is extended to the Ukraine context.
“We wanted to show how inappropriate the notion of negotiation with an aggressor is, how violent the idea of peace without justice is, and how it is for Ukrainians to hear constant pushing for talks with the Russian state,” said Checkpoint Peace Programme Manager Kateryna Tarabukina of Vitsche, a Berlin-based NGO which co-authored the project with Platform TU. “We decided not to make it directly about the war because Ukraine can feel very distant to the average person. We wanted to convey the frustration you feel when the aggressor goes unpunished and then the authorities try to put you at the table to negotiate”.
One of the biggest public events implemented through the project was the Mariupol Liberation Day march June 13th in Berlin. A cherished day for people from Mariupol, Liberation Day marks the liberation of the city by Ukrainian forces in 2014 after just over one month of Russian occupation.
Unable to mark the day in Mariupol for the second year in a row as the city is again under Russian occupation, Checkpoint Peace activists lead Ukrainians, many from Mariupol, and German participants on a march from Potsdamer Platz to the state opera house. The path was a recreation of the traditional route in Mariupol which had always ended at the city theatre, a gathering point for the community which was destroyed by Russian bombs in March 2022.
“It was a chance to share with German people what a real spirit of liberation looks like, not the false liberation Russia claims”, said Diana.
“When we look at the long history of Russian propaganda in Europe, we know it’s not possible for a small group of activists to change things over night”, said Project Manager Kateryna Demerza of Vitsche. “but our actions are a powerful injection of truth that has a lasting effect”.