Libraries play a vital role in supporting Ukraine’s war effort, whether it’s providing shelter for families during Russian bombardments, making camouflage netting for the army, and fighting against misinformation.
“It’s really scary when schools, libraries, universities, hospitals, maternity wards, residential areas are bombed,” Oksana Bruy, president of the Ukrainian Library Association, told NPR.
Citing civilian deaths and the Russian military’s drive to take control of nuclear power plants, Bruy added: “It’s very dangerous for the whole world.”
Libraries rushed to support Ukraine in its fight
Bruy is among the Ukrainians who were taken by surprise when the sirens sounded on February 24, announcing the invasion of Russia. While some Ukrainian libraries have been destroyed by the fighting, she says libraries across the country are “buzzing like beehives,” full of librarians, readers, refugees and volunteers.
“Refugee reception points, hostels and logistics points are organized here,” she said. “Camouflage nets for the military are also woven here. Home care courses are held here. Books are collected here for transfer to libraries in neighboring countries that host Ukrainian refugees.
A packet of nets was wrapped with a note: “Death to enemies”.
As their country is plunged into war, the libraries are also bringing in specialists to provide psychological help to residents struggling to cope with an unwelcome new reality.
“There are bomb shelters in libraries,” Bruy added, pointing to a children’s library in Mykolaiv where children, their families and a few dogs were safe. As a video released by the library shows, children use their time in the shelter to select books, filling in the hours before they can get out.
Librarians’ provocative post went viral
Bruy and the Ukrainian Library Association received hundreds of positive and encouraging messages after the group issued a notice postponing — not canceling — an international conference it was to organize in early March. The confident tone struck Nicholas Poole, CEO of CILIP, the UK Library and Information Association.
In one tweet that got over 200,000 likesPoole said of the notice, “it’s basically saying ‘We’ll postpone as soon as we’re done defeating our invaders’. Ukrainian librarians, I salute you.”
Bruy, who is the director of the library at the Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv, and ULA have also written to the International Federation of Library Associations, academic publishers and other institutions, asking them to exclude the Russian Library Association of all activities, invoking the need to confront aggression and embrace values based on truth and information sharing.
Their request won the support of many peer organizations across Europe. In response, IFLA issued a statement expressing “solidarity with our Ukrainian colleagues” and condemning “all violent actions”, but it did not mention Russia or take any action against the RLA.
A new silence has settled on some libraries
Libraries are renowned for their tranquility and calm. But in some parts of Ukraine, says Bruy, libraries are no longer marked by the usual silence but by “dead silence”.
“These are the libraries destroyed by Russian bombing in Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, [Starobilsk]Severodonetsk,” she said, pointing to damage to the Karazin University Library in Kharkiv, the famous university city.
Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP via Getty Images
Even in times of peace, Ukrainian libraries try to counter the influence of disinformation, training people in media and information literacy. But it’s war, and everything about life in Ukraine is now different. Librarians across the country work hard to protect their collections and ensure people can access books and other materials.
“Today Ukraine is not just fighting for its own independence and the future of its children,” Bruy said.
She pointed out that Ukrainians are fighting – and dying – for European values. She urged everyone to support Ukraine, establish a no-fly zone and unite to stop the war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Today he is destroying Ukraine, and tomorrow it could be any other country,” Bruy said.