The Guardian: “‘Our Mission is Crucial’: Meet the Warrior Librarians of Ukraine”
From The Guardian:
The morning that Russian bombs started falling on Kyiv, Oksana Bruy woke up worried about her laptop. Bruy is president of the Ukrainian Library Association and, the night before, she hadn’t quite finished a presentation on the new plans for the Kyiv Polytechnic Library, so she had left her computer open at work. That morning, the street outside her house filled with the gunfire of Ukrainian militias executing Russian agents. Missile strikes drove her into an underground car park with her daughter, Anna, and her cat, Tom. A few days, later she crept back into the huge empty library, 15,000sqft once filled with the quiet murmurings of readers. As she grabbed her laptop, the air raid siren sounded and she rushed to her car.
Thanks to that computer, Bruy could work. She didn’t return to her office; instead, she fled west to Lviv. “In all that time, from the first day of the full-scale war, I did not stop working,” she says. The library’s IT specialist lived in the neighbourhood. He kept the servers running and the employees connected. “So there was not a single day’s break in the work of the Kyiv Polytechnical Library, all this time, from 24 February.” The Russians have not shut her down.
The libraries are on the frontline. The Russians targeted them from the beginning. In the initial invasion, Russian forces demolished the state archives in Chernihiv, a target containing sensitive NKVD and KGB information about Soviet-era repressions that the Russians wanted erased from the historical record. They ransacked the archives in Bucha just as they looted every cultural institution they conquered. They gutted the archival department in Ivankiv for no good reason. “Those who burn books will eventually burn people,” the German poet Heinrich Heine said. But in the Ukrainian war, the Russians burn books and people together.
During this war, Ukrainian libraries now serve new roles. They operate as centres for displaced persons. They offer psychological counselling for traumatised populations. They provide space for art therapy. “Of course, we pay special attention to children,” Bruy says. The librarians even sew camouflage nets when they have the time. But the libraries have two principal tasks to undertake. The first is to keep an accurate record of Russian brutality. “We are convinced that collecting, organising and preserving documents about this war is the straight duty of librarians,” Bruy says. They are also responding to an unprecedented demand for Ukrainian language lessons. Nearly a third of Ukrainians speak Russian as a mother tongue. The war has clarified to them that it is not their language.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.