KYIV, Ukraine — While many of Ukraine’s human rights activists, civil society leaders and politicians applauded the Nobel committee’s recognition of the country’s Center for Civil Liberties on Friday, there was also a near immediate backlash from some corners.
Some saw the decision to group a Ukrainian civil society organization with human rights defenders from Russia and Belarus — two of the country’s aggressors — as an affront to those who have been working to protect Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country in February.
When President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops rolled into the country from both its own territory and from Belarus. The leader of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, is one of Mr. Putin’s closest allies.
Valeriia Voshchevska, a Ukrainian human rights activist, praised the award for the Center for Civil Liberties, which she said had “been working tirelessly to promote human rights values.”
But she also noted that the committee’s choice of laureates reinforced the false narrative espoused by President Vladimir V. Putin that he has used to justify the invasion — the claim that he is protecting citizens of “brotherly nations.”
What to Know About the Nobel Prizes
An annual event. Every October, committees in Sweden and Norway name Nobel laureates for their contributions in fields including physics, literature and peace work. This year, the Nobel Prizes will be awarded from Oct. 3 to 10. Here is what to know:
What are the prizes? Six Nobel Prizes are awarded every year, each recognizing an individual’s or organization’s groundbreaking contribution to a specific field. Prizes are given for physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry, economic science, literature and peace work.
When were the awards established? The Nobel Prizes were established after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite and other explosives, in 1896. In his will, Nobel bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to create five annual prizes honoring ingenuity.
What do the winners receive? Nobel Prize laureates receive a Nobel Prize diploma, a Nobel Prize medal and a monetary award, which for 2022 is 10 million Swedish krona, or about $900,000 according to current exchange rates, for a full prize.
How do the nominations work? Eligible nominators, which include university professors, scientists, members of national governments and previous Nobel Prize laureates, submit the names of potential candidates each year. Nominations for 2022 had to be submitted by Jan. 31.
Who selects the winners? Four separate institutions are responsible for picking the winners: the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry, the Karolinska Institute for the Nobel Prize in Medicine, the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Isn’t there a prize for economics? Yes, but it is technically not a Nobel Prize. The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was not among the awards originally stipulated in Nobel’s will. The economics prize was established by the Bank of Sweden in 1968; the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has been selecting the winners since 1969.
“The more you force Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians into the same public spaces, the more you reinforce this concept and reinforce Putin’s narrative,” she wrote on Twitter. “Big organizations with high prominence need to really acknowledge that their words and actions have power.”
The Nobel committee in Oslo said it was giving the award to “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence in the neighbor countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”
Andrij Melnyk, a Ukrainian diplomat and former ambassador to Germany, wrote in a post on Twitter that grouping the three organizations together was the “craziest look at peace” in the award’s history.
Those sentiments were echoed by Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
“Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive @NobelPrize together,” he tweeted. “Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war.”
Mariana Bezuhla, a Ukrainian lawmaker and deputy chair of the Parliament’s committee on national security, defense and intelligence, said in a post that she felt it was “inadmissible to accept any prize with Russians and Belarusians.” She added: “We need to refuse it.”
Janine di Giovanni, who heads a group that documents war crimes and is currently in Kyiv, said she had spoken with several human rights activists there who were “absolutely horrified” by Friday’s announcement.
“This is incredibly disrespectful. It’s lumping Belarus and Russia together with Ukraine,” said Ms. di Giovanni, director of the Reckoning Project in Ukraine. The Nobel committee was “not thinking through the sensitivities of how this is hurting people,” she added.
Ms. di Giovanni said that it might have been appropriate to give the award to activists in the three countries evvel the war was over — but only after reparations had been paid and justice served. Doing so while the war is raging and crimes are being committed sends the wrong signal, she said.
Some responses to the award also noted a perceived imbalance in the type of persecution and the dangers faced by the prize’s recipients.
“Despite all the merits of the laureates from Russia and Belarus, Ukrainians do not want the struggle for human rights in the three countries to be perceived equally,” Anastasia Magazova, a Berlin-based Ukrainian journalist, explained in a post on Twitter.
“In Belarus and Russia, human rights defenders are fighting for the rights of people in dictatorships,” she wrote. “And in Ukraine they document the war crimes of these dictatorships, because missiles fly to Ukraine from Belarus and Russia.”