‘We will have a Ukraine that understands the price for its nationhood’

Sviatoslav Yurash, Ukraine’s youngest MP, on his nation’s struggle for survival

Sviatoslav Yurash, who at 26 years old is the youngest MP in Ukraine, was elected as a member of president Volodmyr Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party in 2019.

As a former journalist, Sviatoslav founded the news agency Euromaidan Press during the Revolution of Dignity to provide a voice from the barricades in Kyiv and proliferate messages from protestors to the masses of Ukraine. For his active participation, he was awarded an Order of Merit by former president Poroshenko.

He is now a leading Ukrainian on social media, iconic for the AK-47 rifle looped around his neck. He talks to the Breaker reporters Samanta Gladkauskaite and Samuel Hewetson about the war in Ukraine.

Two days ago marked a month since the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces began. You’ve been in Kyiv all this time. How has the city changed? How is it different from a month ago?

I’ve been in Kyiv and the Kyiv region, and the hotspots, and all parts.

The reality is the city is becoming prepared to withstand whatever Russians throw at us. We are ready for whatever comes, and the reality is that this can only be strengthened with the benefit of time. All in all, the battles are happening outside the city. Russian forces try to cut Western supply lines but they aren’t able to. That’s the reality of the situation.

You are now an officially mobilised soldier within your unit, so does that mean you’ve received military training over this month?

Everybody is receiving the training however they can. Bit by bit.

I was trying to decide the skirmishes that I’ve been in, the humanitarian stuff, to try and be officially part of the armed effort and I joined my parliamentary assistant – whose now leading a platoon out of Kyiv – in his efforts and I asked to him whether I can continue my humanitarian efforts as well as mobilise and he agreed. Because yes, I can be wonderful at checkpoints but I can be more useful getting different things to him and others. So yes, basically I am a joint official.

Sviatoslav, now fully mobilised, stands alongside his new comrades in the Kyiv region. Photo courtesy of Sviatoslav Yurash.

And you did go viral with the quote that ‘everybody is a soldier in Ukraine’. What did you think are the psychological impacts of this? And do you think Ukrainians will ever be able to transition back to normal lives after the fighting ends?

Ah well, the reality is there is no normal life. Understanding how badly Russians are trying to destroy my country, how many they are killing, how many lives they are destroying every single day, and the point is that out of this situation we will have a Ukraine that understands the price for its nationhood and we shall join together in both reconstruction effort and construction efforts for our future destiny that is now clearly away from Russia. The battle we are involved right now is the once in a generation struggle that shall be the deciding point for our nation. And I can see right now with a month going by that we shall win this.

The battle we are involved right now is the once in a generation struggle that shall be the deciding point for our nation

And so, how do you see this conflict resolving? 

I don’t see resolving this conflict. I see Russia being defeated.

The reality is that negotiations aren’t leading us very far and are leading us nowhere. Russia is refusing basic points such as ceasefire and all the things they agree to like humanitarian corridors are violated every single time. The point is it seems very clear that Russians are keen to pursue and push at the military option and we are defending and we shall be defending, no matter what Russia does or throws at us.

You posted the heartbreaking news of the death of your loved one Alexandra Kuvshynova. I can’t imagine how many losses of people close to you have suffered. You wrote that now you learn to hate instead of love. Is it hard to maintain your humanity in such horrifying circumstances? 

Sviatoslav stands alongside Alexandra Kuvshynova, 25, who was killed whilst helping journalists document the war. Photo courtesy of Sviatoslav Yurash.

Humanity is all around when we see people that are sacrificing everything they have to try and give shelter and succor, give everything they have to try and provide more resources to all those millions who are fleeing right now.

The reality is that humanity is present, you know, and not to mention the small things: when you see all the efforts done to try and save the animals, pets that people leave behind when fleeing in search of a new home, that is something that gets to you.

But as far as the death of Alexandra is concerned, this is an example of Russian horror that is destroyed those people that essentially are trying to cover this and help the world to see what’s happening on the ground. She was a journalist in the altercation that killed her, but it is the Russians who are the ones who don’t look where they shoot and kill civilians, journalists, people every single day. So the point here is that we have a unique national struggle to try and defend everything we have so that Alexandra’s, many more Alexandra’s, will not die in the future.

We have a unique national struggle to try and defend everything we have so that Alexandras, many more Alexandras, will not die in the future

You also have a bit of background in journalism, and I wonder if you feel that the news coverage of Ukraine has been objective? Do you think that censorship of Russian media outlets are justified? 

Russian outlets like Russia Today are resources that are nothing but propaganda outlets, that it is nothing but lies, and for that resource to be censored is the reality of Russia waging war both in terms of actual fighting and terms of propaganda. To shut them up is just to show the world this amount of blatant lies won’t be tolerated anymore, it as justified as it can be.

In terms of the journalism of the general coverage, we appreciate all sentiments, all the good words and all the attention devoted to the war here, but the reality is much more needs to be done to highlight what is actually happening: the fact that the biggest European state now is fighting a war unlike anything you’ve seen since 1939, is something that will change the global dialogue in every way and the less the West does right now here, the more emboldened many other people around the world will be. Many more despots will feel to try and cause havoc for whatever cause they see as justified.

There’s obviously a lot of support for Ukraine around the globe with marches and protests. Are smaller acts of solidarity – such as those on social media – appreciated by Ukrainians, or do you see sort of it as a meaningless gesture to excuse the lack of material aid? 

These are all steps. That picture, that flag, on social media can be a first step to actually trying to find out what you want to do, what you can do to try and help the situation Many people are making those steps and again all this support means a lot to us, the fact that the world actually cares and joins in the fight in different ways. The point here is that every single bit is welcome, but nothing is enough and all is needed.

You have been quoted to say that we need a no fly zone over Ukraine. Are you not afraid that if that’s implemented, Russia might escalate and use nuclear weaponry? 

Russia’s bluffing and has been bluffing all along. He [Putin] understands perfectly the might of the West is quite un-paralleled in terms of comparison to Russia’s own armed forces, which are proven to be nothing but a giant on play legs here in Ukraine now.

A no fly zone is a measure that will help alleviate this amount of madness happening in my country every single day, with attacks on civilians on humanitarian corridors and everything you see in Mariupol is the example to you – what is happening when Russians are applying their air force and how they turn into hell everything they touch. No fly zones are but a measure that gives us more of a chance in this battle, and again Russia’s bluff in terms of unparalleled consequences: all that is nothing but a delusion.

Sviatoslav Yurash brandishes his AK-47 rifle, now a ubiquitous item on his person. Photo courtesy of Sviatoslav Yurash.

There are some questionable/controversial elements relating to some aspects of the Ukrainian defence – such as the nationalist Azov Regiment (formerly Battalion) – how do you feel about this? [Azov are known to use fascist imagery]

Oh Azov, I can tell you clearly right now: Azov are heroes. They are Spartans who are standing in Mariupol and defending every part of that city heroically. Today, a commander of Azov in Mariupol was named a Hero of Ukraine and for very good reason. They are destroying Russian forces day in and day out, living on nothing there, and I cannot tolerate anymore of this idiocy as far as whatever the relation they {Azov] have with the far-right. I met them. I know them. And these are heroes that are giving their lives every single day to this country as nobody else can imagine. They are modern day Spartans, and if the West – if any far-left or far-right group or whatever has anything to say about that so – we don’t frankly care. We see their heroism and we appreciate it dearly.

As far as everyday breads and sentiments that I’ve seen expressed online, and this systematic government efforts, all of that is a godsend to us. And again, we cannot thank you enough for that.

The whole point about Nazis, that idiocy… in Ukraine we have a Russian-speaking Jewish president, a Jewish president who is giving medals to our heroes and he’s standing here in Kyiv with us. All that madness of Russian propaganda, of Russian trolls, what they throw in is nothing but lies, and whatever claim there is to try and support those lies from whatever useful idiots that are in the West is nothing but a sham.

British people have been extremely proactive with helping Ukrainians. We’ve gathered tons of donations, there’s also a scheme for housing refugees, is there anything that you want British people in particular to know about what’s happening in Ukraine? 

God Save the Queen every single time an NLAW is used by Ukrainians. The British nation has been by far in the lead of the efforts of trying to help us win this fight. The British nation has been very clear in its intention to help us with many different needs. And we cannot appreciate it enough. As far as everyday breads and sentiments that I’ve seen expressed online, and this systematic government efforts, all of that is a godsend to us. And again, we cannot thank you enough for that. For showing leadership as far as the Western response to the whole crisis is concerned. And again, Ukraine is a democratic nation that has various problems. All discussions are different, so there is a left wing and right wing, but again all that means nothing now because we are fighting for our very existence, for the existence of national law right now, Britain sees that and it’s help us sustain this battle as nobody else can imagine. So we cannot thank you enough for it. And all these volunteers that I see coming in from Britain to join the fighting of Ukraine is another sign that our nations are clearly aligned.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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