KYIV, Ukraine — Human rights advocates in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were being honored on Saturday at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo.
The laureates — Memorial, a Russian organization; the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine; and Ales Bialiatski, a jailed Belarusian activist — have become symbols of resistance and accountability during the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, set off by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They also have emerged as some of the starkest challengers to the widespread misinformation and harmful myths disseminated by authoritarian leaders.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told the audience in Oslo that the laureates had “promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”
“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and abuses of power,” she said. “Together, they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”
Oleksandra Matviichuk, the head of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, used her acceptance speech on Saturday to make an impassioned case that at this moment in history, in her country, the only way to secure a just and lasting peace is to fight.
“People of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world,” she said. “But peace cannot be reached by a country under attack laying down its arms. This would not be peace, but occupation.”
The Nobel committee’s decision to group a Ukrainian civil society organization with human rights defenders from Russia and Belarus — two of the country’s aggressors — prompted some initial backlash in Ukraine when the award was announced in October. Some saw it as an affront to those who have been working to protect Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country in February.
Founded in 2007, the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine was chosen along with Memorial and Mr. Bialiatski for its actions that “demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, issued a scathing criticism of the Nobel committee soon after the award was announced, saying that it had an “interesting understanding of the word ‘peace.’”
“Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to oppose this war,” he said in a statement.
Ms. Reiss-Andersen said before the ceremony that the awards were given to send a signal that the conflict in Ukraine must end.
“Sometimes an effort for peace lies with civil society and not with state ambitions alone,” she said. “Peace is a wish and achievement that comes with a value that all laureates work: Addressing atrocities, war crimes and rule of law.”
She said that a disregard for those values was at the core of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“Exactly in these times this is a very important reminder,” she said.