4 March 2014
Tension and unrest in Ukraine: statement by the Ukrainian Library Association
During the months of January and February 2014, the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine found itself at the center of the anti-government clashes in Kiev. The former Ukrainian government under President Yanukovych used violence to stop a non-violent protest and civil resistance collectively known as EuroMaidan (Ukrainian: Євромайдан). Nearly one hundred people were killed and almost one thousand wounded in the downtown area of Kiev.
Severe clashes between the protesters and government forces took place in front of the National Parliamentary Library. The square and streets around it were filled with smoke and fire from burning automobile tires placed by activists to protect themselves. One building was set on fire by (former) government troops, but not near the library.
Librarians remained neutral and did not take direct part in the anti-government protests, but carried out their professional duties, saving people, protecting library collections and the library building. Beyond this, the International Red Cross opened a field hospital on the ground floor of the National Parliamentary Library and managed to save many lives.
Maidan activists together with librarians defended the National Parliamentary Library and stayed in the library building day and night. As a result of their efforts, the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine is safe, as are the library collections and librarians.
The Maidan civil movement managed to open a free public library at Maidan on 26 January. Kiev residents voluntarily brought books to this library and it was very popular with protesters and activists.
The library opened at Ukrainian House [on] January 26, when protesters occupied the building. Since then the library has acquired ten bookcases, employed the chief librarian [named] Bohdan, who came from Dnipropetrovsk, and a group of volunteers. It has its own seal and a system of encouragement now – a candy for every returned book.”
Later on the Maidan Library was destroyed by government troops, but was restarted again as soon as protesters took back the Ukrainian House. It is planned that after Maidan all books will be donated to village libraries across Ukraine.
There was an attempt to set the Vinnytsia Oblast (Regional) Library on fire in Vinnytsia, a city southwest of Kiev. The library is downtown and was in the heart of the protests against the local authorities, but librarians managed to stop the fire immediately.
On 23 January, the Ukrainian Library Association issued a statement which in addition to other concerns stated:
The Ukrainian Library Association (a Ukrainian NGO) is deeply concerned about the violence occurring in the center of Kiev. We demand that human lives be saved and for actions to be taken to secure the spirit, soul, and thoughts of the Ukrainian people stored in the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, libraries and archives of the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and the National Art Museum of Ukraine, which appear to be at the center of the confrontations.
We call to take immediate action, which helps find a peaceful and just solution to the conflict for the future of Ukraine, including ending the violence. We consider inadmissible any restriction of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and international conventions ratified by Ukraine, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the work of NGOs."
On 21 February 2014, the Ukrainian Library Association together with other organisations formed a Ukrainian National Committee within the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS), an international body of organisations formed "with the purpose of coordinating and strengthening international efforts to protect cultural property at risk of destruction during armed conflicts or natural disasters."
Valentyna Pashkova, PhD
Ukrainian Library Association
Photos by Halyna Kyrychenko, Deputy Director of the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine. Source: Творчість та інновації в українських бібліотеках.