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paul waldie

A tire burns for heat and as a smokescreen as protesters in Kiev man their makeshift barricade on Jan. 26, 2014.JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

As the world watches events unfolding in Ukraine, one unlikely person is leading the effort to get the message of the protesters out; a poised, articulate 17-year-old who'd rather not talk about his age.

When asked how old he is, Sviatoslav Yurash turns his head quietly and says; "If I may lower my voice, I'm 17," he says in flawless English with almost no accent. "The reality of Ukraine is that this information is leading up to all kinds of age discrimination."

It doesn't look like it. Standing in the bustling media centre in a building right in the middle of Kiev's Independence Square, where protests against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych having been going on for two months, Mr. Yurash is in constant demand, interrupting our conversation politely to field a myriad of questions in Ukrainian. He oversees dozens of volunteers who issue press statements, answer questions and post information on social media in Ukrainian, English, Polish, French and German. One volunteer also speaks Greek and another Spanish. There are also plans to develop similar communications groups among Ukrainians living in Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

"In this press centre we are leading the initiative of preparing a structured approached to the information stream," he says stiffly and then smiles as if to acknowledge the formal tone. "I feel a great deal of honour leading this initiative."

Tall, blond and wearing a sharp suit coat, Mr. Yurash stands out among the ragged-looking volunteers who shuffle by in tattered clothes, many wearing motorcycle helmets or construction hats for protection against rubber bullets or flying rocks. He delights in touring visitors around the building, which was handed over to the protesters by a trade union. The floors are filthy and the hallways are packed with people smashing into each other as they negotiate their way around piles of donated goods and the general chaos that comes with unstructured political movements (two burly men outside in hardhats restrict entry with little effect as each of the four floors is crammed).

None of this dampens Mr. Yurash's enthusiasm. He marvels at a makeshift medical clinic on the third floor and speaks at length about the auditorium which has been converted into a rest area for volunteers, many of whom are sitting slumped in chairs and covered in soot from the burning tires which are a common feature at the front-line barricades.

"This is a unique place to be and a place you need to be if you want to plan your future in Ukrainian politics," he says before pointing out the various ethnic and social differences among those in the auditorium.

He is from Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that is a hot-bed of anti-government activity. His father is a university professor, teaching journalism, and his mother works for philanthropist George Soros' International Renaissance Foundation. He's studying international relations at a university in Poland and spent a few months in Calcutta last fall before returning to Ukraine when the protests broke out.

He's here to fight for democracy he says and he'll probably head back to school next fall if everything works out. And, yes, his parents are a bit worried. "Of course they are worried but they understand that in any situation there are risks and we must take them into account and even after I do that I still see a great deal of potential," he says.

And like any true believer he adds: "I want Ukraine to be free. I want Ukraine to be democratic. I want it to be successful and being afraid doesn't help. I would risk hanging my neck out in order to bring what little I can to the cause." But now he has to go, politely telling his visitor: "As you can see it's extremely busy."

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