Two librarians and a publisher from Ukraine have been reporting on their experiences in a discussion held at the University of Bonn, organized by the Bonn University and State Library (USL) together with RWTH Aachen University.
Birgit Ulrike Münch, Vice Rector for International Affairs, welcomed the speakers and guests to the event entitled "Libraries, Children and Literature in Ukraine-in Times of War and Peace." "As well as preserving Ukraine’s culture and cultural life in wartime, their work is also giving children and young people an outlet," she said. "Culture and education are the antidote to xenophobia and war; culture fosters dialogue; cultural identity cannot be allowed to be destroyed. They are playing a significant part in preserving this identity, this heritage, for the most important generations, which are the ones still to come."
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, numerous libraries, museums, archives and churches across the country have been attacked, destroyed and looted in a targeted campaign. Cultural institutions are continuing to work in unimaginably tough conditions to preserve cultural life, protect cultural heritage and set up shelters. The National Library of Ukraine for Children in Kyiv is no exception: it is collecting up the country’s literature for children and young people, keeping it safe and making it available to the public.
"We’re staying strong for our children."
Director Alla Gordiienko and Olha Dubova, Head of the Foreign Literature department, told the audience about their work. Before the war, the library and its events were attracting some 45,000 users a year, most of them children. One major highlight is the "Children’s Reading Week," where celebrities come to read and tell stories. The most recent event was held on February 23, 2022, a day before the war started. Despite some dramatic first few days, it soon became clear: "We’re going to carry on," Gordiienko said. "We’re staying strong for our children. We were able to keep in touch on social media and coordinate our work." Thus the Children’s Reading Week moved online: 20 authors read extracts from their books, in some cases right from the front line. The initiative got 28,000 hits.
The National Library of Ukraine for Children itself was turned into a shelter for young and old: "Adults and children kept having to go down into the bomb shelter. To avoid traumatizing the children, we made it into a game of hide-and-seek and renamed the shelter our ’Children’s Bedrooms,’" Gordiienko revealed. The children in the shelter were given tasks to do-crafting talismans or writing postcards to soldiers, This made them feel needed while also providing them with a distraction.
Publishing goes on despite the war
Anna Tyurina is one of the publishers at Kharkiv-based Crocus, a publishing house for books for children and young people that produces children’s books by Ukrainian authors and-in translation-authors writing in other languages. She spoke of her experiences as a Ukrainian woman who had fled to Germany and of her efforts to keep the publishing house going in difficult circumstances. "A grant from the Goethe Institute enabled us to move our stock from our warehouse in central Kharkiv out into the suburbs." Six books have been successfully published since the war started, including one handled by Moritz Verlag in Germany.
All three ladies spoke about their work with great passion and commitment. Suddenly, a smartphone went off-an air raid siren in Kyiv. A striking moment, and one that made it even clearer to the audience how much the war is dominating the speakers’ daily lives, even when they are far from home, and cannot simply be blanked out.
Following the lively exchanges, USL Director Dr. Ulrich Meyer-Doerpinghaus thanked the three speakers in the company of the guests: "I’m deeply impressed by your courage and your optimism as well as the openness with which you’ve allowed us to share in your situation today. We’re going to keep on working together. Fostering understanding between European civil societies also involves building bridges between libraries, which are important cultural institutions in their respective countries."
The dialogue will continue, not just at RWTH’s partnership event in Aachen on December 7, 2022, but also beyond this, in order to expand people’s knowledge of Ukrainian cultural life, defend it and support it with all available means.
The National Library of Ukraine for Children
Ukraine is one of only a handful of countries in the world (another is South Korea) to have a national library dedicated to children’s and young people’s literature-in its case the National Library of Ukraine for Children in Kyiv. It collects and preserves the country’s literature for children and young people and makes it available to the public. The library was established in 1967 and was given the status of national library in 2003. It holds more than 525,000 books, magazines and audiovisual media items and attracts over 20,000 visitors a year. The library also has an extensive special collection of valuable 19th-century works. Besides Ukrainian literature, it holds over 15,000 books written in other languages. The library’s Sociology department conducts research into the reading behavior and reading needs of children and young people, provides information to teachers and works closely with publishers of children’s and young people’s books in Ukraine. However, it also sees itself predominantly as a library for children and young people to visit. (Find out more: https://chl.kiev.ua/default.aspx’id=47 )
Based in Kharkiv, Crocus Publishing is a relatively young publisher of children’s books by Ukrainian authors and-in translation-authors writing in other languages. The Russian invasion has made it virtually impossible for the publishing house to do any work in the country. One of its publishers has fled to Germany with her family and is endeavoring to keep the business going from there with support from other publishing houses in Germany (Moritz Verlag) and France (L’école des loisirs). (Find out more: https://crocusbooks.com.ua/en/ )
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