The war in Ukraine has been devastating for the country’s cultural heritage, with books being targeted as a symbol of Ukrainian identity. Reports from social media platforms have highlighted Russia destroying books in Ukraine. Ukraine has also withdrawn Soviet-era and Russian books from libraries across the country.
“Genocide not only kills people. It also kills culture. Russia is destroying millions of books because they teach a different worldview and are in Ukrainian. By reigniting this fire, Russians are turning back the clocks 90 years, to an era forever condemned by history,” reads a tweet from Defense of Ukraine, a Ukraine government organisation.
In her tweet, Olena Halushka, co-founder of the International Centre for Ukrainian Victory, says, “Russians are throwing away Ukrainian books from the Pryazovskyi State University in Mariupol. Some are dumped right from the window. Russia is systemically destroying all things Ukraine in the occupied towns. Great Russian culture is erasing our identity.”
During the ongoing war, Ukraine has withdrawn about 19 million Soviet-era and Russian books from its libraries. Yevheniia Kravchuk, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, has said that there are also recommendations to remove books whose authors supported armed aggression against Ukraine.
The PEN America report Ukrainian Culture Under Attack: Erasure of Ukrainian Culture in Russia's War Against Ukraine, released on December 2, quotes Victoria Amelina, a prize-winning author, to explain how the erasure of Ukrainian culture and identity was part of a larger strategy.
“I’m in Kyiv and alive,” Victoria Amelina started off, explaining that she was filming Russian strikes in Kyiv as best as she could.
She tweeted out a list of the buildings damaged or destroyed during the attack, including the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, the Khanenko Museum, the Kyiv Picture Gallery, the National Philharmonic of Ukraine, Maksymovych Scientific Library, and Kyiv City Teacher’s House.
The PEN report highlighted how the targeting of cultural institutions was part of an ongoing campaign to delegitimise the Ukrainian nation and its people. It also noted that the destruction of cultural institutions had a devastating psychological impact on Ukrainians, who felt as if their history and cultural identity were being erased.
It concluded that the erasure of Ukrainian culture was part of a deliberate effort by the Russian government to undermine the Ukrainian nation and its people. It noted that these attacks on Ukrainian culture were part of a larger campaign to suppress dissent and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty.
The PEN America report makes it clear that the erasure of Ukrainian culture is part of a concerted strategy to undermine Ukraine's independence and its people's right to self-determination. The report serves as a call to action, urging the international community to take action to protect Ukrainian culture and identity.
The PEN report highlights the devastating consequences of the Russian war. It explains how Russian President Vladimir Putin's false claims about Ukrainian culture are part of his strategy to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and impose a version of Russia's culture, history, and worldview on Ukrainians.
The report notes that the erasure of Ukrainian culture has had a severe psychological impact on Ukrainians, who feel as if their history and cultural identity are being taken away from them. It also details how the destruction of cultural institutions has been used to delegitimise the Ukrainian nation and its people.
The report calls on the international community to take action to protect and promote Ukrainian culture and identity. It emphasises the importance of preserving Ukrainian culture in the face of Russian aggression and highlights the need for increased support for those working to protect and promote it.
Quoting evidence collected by the Book Chamber of Ukraine, Chytomo, an online cultural magazine, reveals the number of books published in Ukraine decreased by 8,532 titles and the number of copies decreased by 16,473. From February 6, 2022, a total of 714 books were published in Russian in Ukraine, compared to 2,210 in 2021. The total circulation of Russian-language publications decreased by 74 per cent from more than 1.9 million copies in 2021 to 4,879 in 2022.
This shows the need for more support for publishing and promoting Ukrainian culture in the face of this conflict.
The PEN report shows the devastating effects of Russian attacks on Ukrainian culture. Despite this, Ukrainians demonstrate remarkable resilience and resistance by continuing to produce and promote culture through various activities such as literary readings, concerts in metro stations, and the popular song Good Evening (Where Are You From?).