Literature during the war
A Blow to History: Ukrainian Literary Works Destroyed in Recent Incidents
Von Володимир Бірюков | Volodymyr Biriukov
In particular, the Russian military is destroying books about the Maidan and textbooks on Ukrainian history. They also prohibit mentioning the names: Mazepa, Petlyura, Chernovil, Shukhevych, Stus and a number of other Ukrainian political and cultural figures.
It has been a year since Russia brazenly invaded a sovereign European state called Ukraine and unleashed a war on the European continent there. Every day Russia deals a crushing blow to the civil and critical infrastructure, as well as to the cultural segment: theaters, cinemas, concert halls, libraries, museums and buildings of historical significance, which belong to the world heritage and unite the culture not only of Ukraine but also of other nations.
The first alarming news about the robbery of Ukrainian museums and libraries was received at the beginning of March of last year, when the Chernihiv, Kyiv and Sumy regions were occupied by Russia. Residents of these regions reported seeing Russians burning school libraries with literature intended for education, adding: - «The books they found were confiscated, destroyed on the spot or taken to an unknown destination».
What is the motive behind this action on Russia's part?
The act of burning books written in the language of an enemy during war is a form of cultural destruction and is meant to dehumanize and delegitimize the enemy. It is also a way to assert dominance and control over the enemy's culture and history. Burning books can also serve as a psychological weapon, aimed at intimidating and suppressing the enemy population. However, it's important to note that this act of book burning is a form of censorship and an attack on freedom of expression. It goes against the principles of intellectual freedom and cultural exchange, and can result in the loss of valuable knowledge and cultural heritage. Book burning also perpetuates hatred and division between conflicting parties, rather than promoting understanding and peace.
"Literature is an expanse of freedom, inspiration, truthful testimony, and deep reflection, which is no small threat to Russia today. Therefore, it was decided to adopt certain changes so that this meaning does not correspond to reality. Everything that is happening now is a scenario of the period of World War II and the occupation of Ukraine, which took place in the last century. Therefore, we can say with certainty that today the Russian occupiers, in addition to repressive functions, also perform the so-called "ideological functions" on the territory of a neighboring state in order to change or rewrite history altogether," - says Tatiana Ogarkova, head of the international department of the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center.
Because the Ukrainians are at maximum resistance to the Russian army in the war, and the patriotic spirit has soared to maximum - it is necessary to impose their Russian ideology on them in order to break this bond. Under the concepts of "denazification" and "demilitarization," which are often referred to in Russia, should actually be understood as - "deukranization" - a complete and total subjugation of their neighbor.
What is the goal? And what is there to know?
Destroying books in a particular language can have a significant impact on the culture of a country, as books are often considered to be an important repository of a society's collective knowledge, values, and history. By destroying books, you can erase or distort important information, stories, and cultural norms, which can lead to a loss of identity and cultural heritage. However, it's important to note that destroying books alone is not enough to completely destroy a culture. Culture is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that is deeply rooted in people's beliefs, practices, and interactions. Nevertheless, destroying books can certainly have a detrimental effect on a culture, particularly if it is done in a systematic or widespread manner, or if it is combined with other forms of cultural suppression or violence.
Today, books on the history of the Ukrainian Maidan, Anti-Terrorist Activities in the Donbass, and the history of the Ukrainian liberation struggle are of the greatest interest to the occupiers in the occupied territories. The "extremist" literature includes school textbooks of Ukrainian history, scientific, and popular historical literature. There is a whole list of authors and certain names that are proposed for destruction. Among them: Mazepa, Petlyura, Bandera, Shukhevich, Chernovil. And the book "The Case of Vasyl Stus" by journalist Vakhtang Kipiani was seized in the cities of Kremenna, Rubizhne (Luhansk region), and Gorodnya (Chernihiv region). When a banned book is found it is destroyed on the spot or confiscated.
Liudmyla Denisova, the Ombudsman and Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) Commissioner for Human Rights, also reported on the seizure of Ukrainian books in the temporarily occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson oblasts.
"The so-called ‘military police’ is confiscating Ukrainian fiction and historical literature from libraries in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson oblasts," the Ombudsman said.
According to her, the Russians have damaged or destroyed almost 60 Ukrainian libraries since the beginning of the war. Almost 4,000 libraries ended up in the temporarily occupied territory, and the state of 20 libraries in Mariupol is unknown, the Ombudsman said.
The greatest destruction caused by the shelling of the Russian Federation:
- Chernihiv library for young people,
- Donetsk library for children,
- Makariv Public Library,
- Korolenko Library in Kharkiv.
Today, Ukraine is actually returning to its historical experience, as in the occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, in 2023 - soldiers of the Russian army are working, mostly in educational institutions, where exactly the Russian language is imposed. Ukraine already passed through this scenario eight years ago in Donbas and Crimea. With this kind of work, the Ukrainian language has been supplanted and the identity as such destroyed.
Vladimir Putin himself, in an article published in July 2021, made his message clear that the Ukrainian people, and their cultural identity - do not exist. Rather, that the country is part of the Russian community! And most importantly, that Ukraine as a state entity is an artificial project of Vladimir Lenin. The Russian president has thus been able to carry out considerable historical manipulation, which has already been repeatedly confirmed in the press, by historians and diplomats from various countries.
To respond to Russia's aggression, Ukrainians decided to get rid of the influence of Russian culture, which, until then had been acceptable on Ukrainian territory, on a mass scale. For example, one of the largest state-owned bookstores in central Kyiv decided to hold a campaign and urged residents and visitors to the city to donate Russian-language printed publications to be recycled for waste paper, in return for which they would receive a 10% discount on the purchase of new books.
"Within 1.5 months, more than 1,700 residents had joined the collection of Russian publications, carrying books by hand, carrying them in suitcases, arriving in cars overflowing with books, sending them by taxi or sending them by post," - the bookstore staff said.
As a result, the residents of Kyiv gave away 48,000 Russian books, including many by classic Russian authors like Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, as well as modern authors from the neighboring country, for waste paper to the capital's municipal bookstore. In the end, it resulted in 25,000 tons of recycled waste paper. With the proceeds, which amounted to 97,800 UAH, a car was purchased for one of the battalions currently defending Ukraine against Russia on the front line. And Ukrainians promise to continue doing similar campaigns all over the country.
Russia, on the other hand, is not stopping in its attempts to erase Ukrainian culture and continues to do great damage to Ukrainian literature, hoping to do great harm to Ukraine. But there is one significant disadvantage for the occupiers, and it lies in the fact that today Ukraine lives in the 21st century, and most of the books in Ukrainian - which are on Russian lists for destruction - have already been published in electronic format and are made available to readers on all possible digital platforms.
As the "Ukrainian Crisis Media Centre" assures, the actions of the Russian military will not cause any significant damage to Ukrainian literature. But the fact remains that this is not a pleasant story - an attempt to destroy not only the country itself, but also everything Ukrainian in this war which Russia is waging against Ukraine since February 24, 2022.