Libraries in the Ukraine War – An Attack on Ukrainian Culture

Joachim Schul: The war in Ukraine is reaching its climax militarily, and given the suffering and devastation, one hardly dares question the culture. But there the fronts were also bravely defended for weeks – also with the help of Germany, where the “Netzwerk Kulturschutz Ukraine” was created to help cultural institutions in Ukraine.

Olaf Hamann heads the Eastern European Department of the Berlin State Library and coordinates requests for assistance for Ukrainian libraries. The war has been raging for nearly two months now. How seriously affected are libraries and their staff?

Olaf Hamann: Librarians are greatly influenced by the whole events in Ukraine. The war will not let her go. Of course, they are very concerned about the preservation of their collections, especially the Ukrainian language collections. This is the stated goal, the eradication of Ukraine and with it the language.

With the declaration of a state of emergency two months ago, many facilities were closed and many colleagues had to flee. Of course, this also leads to significant changes in normal work. The transmission of information, which had been the focus otherwise, could no longer be achieved.

Instead, other tasks are sought. I have already mentioned protecting collections, but for public libraries this means, above all, support for refugees in areas where there has been no direct bombing or missile attacks.

Support, also for life after the war

the school: There is a long list of ordered goods on the Kulturschutz network website. What do colleagues out there in the affected areas urgently need?

Hamann: Most urgently, there is a need for materials that can be used to package cultural assets in order to bring them to safe places. It is also important to support computer technology, iPhones, or other mobile devices that can ensure access to reliable information. But they can also be used to keep in touch with relatives and to seek educational qualifications, so that life outside the state of war becomes absolutely possible.

the school: Who regulates this or who takes care of these things and how can this be regulated?

Hamann: Ukraine Network for the Protection of Cultural Assets is also available for purchase of these items. We have entered into a collaboration between the German National Library in Frankfurt and Leipzig, the State Library of Berlin and the Coordinating Office for the Preservation of Written Cultural Assets.

Above all, we try to build this network of libraries. While the State Library in Berlin is interested in receiving requests for assistance from Ukrainian colleagues and making them known in German institutions, the German National Library is trying to coordinate and combine offers of assistance from German libraries.

In addition to libraries, archives, represented by the Federal Archives, also participate in this network. ICOM Germany also supports the network and is trying to set up a logistics center in Berlin, which will then centrally collect material donations and transport them to Ukraine.

Grants for refugee librarians

the school: You can also provide tangible personal assistance through scholarships. This means that you can bring people directly from the war zone and from libraries to Germany etc. for protection.

Hamann: To be sure, it is mainly female colleagues who are able to escape. Male colleagues cannot leave the country because they are supposed to support and organize the military defense. But colleagues who are able to flee to us in Germany have received additional offers of scholarships.

For example, we have four Fellowships for Fellows at the National Library in Frankfurt, all of which have already been awarded. Within the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, in which the Berlin State Library is also involved, an additional 20 scholarships for scholars and librarians have been approved.

Here we expect to receive project proposals for scholarship awards for a period of three or with the option of an extension to six months. This is a real support for colleagues who had to leave the country.

Money is needed

the school: If you’re wondering, I can help too, but will there be a direct channel for you as well?

Hamann: We received an appeal from the Ukrainian Library Association because many of our colleagues also had social problems and could not leave the country for various reasons, but where the continuous payment of wages stopped. There is a possibility where donations can be paid.

This procedure is certainly very successful. Last week, I heard from the project supervisor in Ukraine that about 120,000 hryvnias were made available within 14 days, during which at least 120 applications for support could be approved.

Statements made by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschland Funk Kultur does not take the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

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