Books against the bombs: How Ukrainians are using literature to fight back | Books

II’ve lived in Kyiv since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 – and now I’m an internally displaced person again. After a Russian military plane was shot down outside my windows, my family and I were evacuated to a safer location in Lviv, western Ukraine. As editor of the Zaborona media, I spend days working from our temporary home, collecting evidence of the war.

Shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic caused an unexpected cultural breakthrough in the country. Ukraine had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, and the Ukrainian Books Institute, a relatively new government agency, came up with the idea of ​​offering “culture vouchers” as a reward for vaccination against Covid. With each voucher of 1,000 hryvnia (around £25), you can buy tickets to a movie or concert, a gym membership or books. The majority of citizens spent more than a billion hryvnias on pounds.

Many Ukrainians weren’t in the habit of buying books before – studies suggest that the average Ukrainian only reads one book a year. But since Russia annexed Crimea and occupied part of Donbass in 2014, Ukrainian authorities have passed several laws regarding the books. One prohibited the import of books printed in Russia. Another required the media to publish in Ukrainian. Programs have been launched to support local writers and the translation of foreign authors into Ukrainian. This led to an increase in the development of Ukrainian publishing houses and the emergence of many new writers.

Ukrainian authors have already written about Putin’s attacks, in Gray Bees by Andrey Kurkov or The Orphanage by Serhiy Zhadan. But the country said goodbye to books on the first day of the Russian invasion. There is no time to read or write now – everyone is focused on protecting their loved ones. When, on February 24, Russia launched a large-scale attack, missiles flew not only at military infrastructure, as President Vladimir Putin claimed, but also at civilian homes. In cities all over Ukraine, the Russian army began destroying residential houses. Residents were forced to invent ways to protect themselves.

Urban researcher Lev Shevchenko photographed how his neighbors in Kiev’s residential district barricaded themselves with books. In the image, stacks of books line a window from top to bottom. They’re laid out mostly with the binding inside, so it’s hard to tell what most of them are. A single voluminous volume, works by Russian artist Ilya Glazunov, stands out. Ironically, this painter, who saw World War II as a teenager and witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, publicly supported the authoritarian policies of Vladimir Putin and painted paintings in praise of the ” greatness” of Russia. Today, the people of Kiev use a catalog of his paintings to defend themselves against air attacks by the Russian army.

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