Ukraine’s youngest MP Sviatoslav Yurash now helps defend Kyiv with an AK-47 strapped to his back



yesviatoslav Yurash says when he was in high school he never received any military training.

Yet, in the last couple of weeks he has had more than he might ever have imagined, and all of it has been on the job.

In recent days, the 26-year-old, who is both Ukraine’s youngest member of parliament and a member of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, has been widely pictured helping organize the defenses of Kyiv, with an AK-47 assault rifle looped over one shoulder.

He has appeared on international television news programs at every hour of the day and night to appeal for the world’s help.

And he has said these perilous days – a combination of horror, courage and utter surreality – will decide whether Ukraine continues to exist.

“This is the defining moment for our nation. We either fight and survive, to live on to the next generation, or we fall,” he tells The Independent in a phone interview from Ukraine.

“We are trying to battle on to honor the sacrifice made by our ancestors who made the same choices at every single point in our history.”

He adds: “And this is nothing compared to my great-grandfather who survived Stalingrad and then went on to liberate Europe, or my great grandmother who lived through genocide by hunger and the Soviet Union. The point is, we are having our generational struggle with Russia. We shall win that one too, as long as we resist.”

The parliamentarian has become part of a civilian resistance to the Russian advance, that has been seen citizens of Kyiv and other cities gathering to make crude Molotov Cocktails as part of a homemade arsenal.

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Men and women have learned how to shoot weapons, and receive other basic military and first-aid training.

Alongside that has been the arrival of massive amounts of state-of-the-art military equipment – ​​anti-aircraft defences, rockets and artillery – from Nato nations that do not wish to contribute troops, but appear determined to try and help Zelensky and his country .

Youngest Ukraine MP Sviatoslav Yurash ready to take on Russia as convoy approaches Kyiv

Ukraine has also made powerful use of social media in the information war against Russia, even as Putin in turn has also tried to control the narrative as to what is happening.

As one of the faces of the resistance, Yurash has used his platform to highlight what he says are Russia’s clear violations of international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

He says Russia has made no effort to avoid civilian casualties and is instead targeting residential blocks and other such locations that have no military value. He says the intention is to try and destroy people’s morale.

“It’s not just saying that, you can watch the footage yourself and see exactly the evidence from all over Ukraine,” he says.

“All over Ukraine, people are getting killed by the Russians in a step-by-step effort to try and terrify our nation. In reality, what they achieve is the opposite of that; we are ever more defiant in the face of the Russian aggression.”

Yurash says there is compelling evidence that Russia’s actions breach many of the international laws of war, that seek to prohibit not only attacks on civilians, but also facilities such as electrical or nuclear plants.

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Last week, there was fresh international anguish after Russian forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, taking control of the facility and also triggering an offer from the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, to go to Ukraine to broker a deal over nuclear safety between the two sides.

Sviatoslav Yurash, 26, a lawmaker from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, poses with his assault rifle as he patrols downtown Kyiv

(AFP via Getty Images)

“In that city where the power station is, my family lives there, and they said their neighbors from an adjacent area were hit by Russian artillery,” he said. “There is nothing of military value in that area.”

Last week, it was announced prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague had opened an investigation into possible war crimes violations by Russian forces.

“The Geneva Conventions make it very clear [that civilians should not be targeted,]” he said.

“Yet Russia is breaking every single international process, every international rule of engagement. Russia has broken everything there is to break in the international community in every way.

“And as far as for the Russian position, it should be passionately disregarded. They cannot be trusted in any single way, shape or form. I’m very glad to see the Russians being thrown out of all these national institutions. Because Russians are showing their disdain for every international institution with every single step they take, not just now, but throughout the 20 years of Mr Putin’s rule of Russia.”

Eight years ago, Yurash served as one of the spokespeople for what became known as the Maidan uprising that lasted from late 2013 to February 2014.

The protests were triggered by a sudden decision by the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych not to sign an agreement with the EU, and which ended with his ousting.

Price of crude oil skyrocketed after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine

(Nasdaq/Screenshot)

Many countries in the West, including the US and the UK, supported the movement, something that Russia took as an excuse to subsequently invade Ukraine’s Crimea, and back rebels in the east of the country.

“Putin has a long track record of trying to deny that anything can be started by the people. He always sees some exterior forces, some conspiracies that drive the process,” he said.

“But we in Ukraine know our history, we know the facts and the ground. The Ukrainian people, time and time again, have changed the path of our narrative in different directions. Mr Yanukovych’s idiocies were a uniting factor for Ukraine, bringing together different strains of our society.”

Their aim, he said, was to stop him “starting a Russian-style dictatorship in Ukraine”.

“Again, we were successful in defeating that. he fled Ukraine and essentially creating that situation which led to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.”

Some in the West, whose previous knowledge about Zelensky was limited to his cameo role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, have been started by the way the one-time comedian has rallied his nation, and galvanized international support.

Was Yurash surprised?

“By no means. Exactly because of the traits he’s showing right now, is why I joined him in 2019,” he says

“He is defiant, not just about the Russian threat, but about the facts on the ground. For that reason I support the man. And I see him as somebody who will be here with us to the very end fight with us to fight for this country’s future.”

Joe Biden and other Nato leaders have so far ruled out enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it could trigger an even wider, deadlier conflict.

What difference would a no-fly zone make?

“It’s essential. The reality is that as far as Russian air power is ever present and hitting all over Ukraine. You can watch the imagery yourself and the savagery Russians are inflicting on the Ukrainian people,” he says.

“To try and close off the air to the Russians is a humanitarian measure first and foremost, trying to deny them that ability to actually gain the advantage. So the point for us is to ask the world to be reasonable and try and support us in trying to allow for a fairer fight in the very least.”

He adds: “If the world doesn’t want to join in, at least give us a chance when denying the Russians the air supremacy.”

What does he make of Biden’s claim it could lead to a new world war?

“Moscow knows very well that he cannot win this war. That’s why Putin’s not going to start a world war,” he says.

Of the AK-47 he caries with him everywhere, he says: “The reality is, when you’re fighting for your life you learn pretty quickly.

“Plus, the AK-47 that I’m carrying around with me is not the epitome of difficulty. That is why Kalashnikovs are generally easy to use.”


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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