Librarians and archivists in Ukraine today are fighting to retain control of the country’s institutional repositories of memory. The bodies of knowledge for which they are responsible are under attack from Russian forces. According to the Ukrainian Library Association, three national and state libraries, including the National Scientific Medical Library of Ukraine, as well as some 25 university libraries, have been severely damaged or destroyed. The most shocking statistics relate to public libraries: 47 have been completely destroyed beyond repair; another 158 are badly damaged and in need of repair; and a further 276 have received less serious damage.
The toll of ruination includes several buildings of the Karazin University Library in Kharkiv, which held more than 3 million volumes, including many early printed books and manuscripts, as well as important Ukrainian archival collections. In March 2022, a missile exploded in the Rare Book Library, destroying or damaging more than 60,000 precious volumes, and leaving the University Library staff with a daunting task to rescue books damaged by fire, water, and shrapnel. The Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan is among those who have pledged funds to help rebuild the library.
The destruction of libraries was inevitable given such frequent and heavy bombardment of Ukrainian towns and cities, but some evidence suggests that Russian forces not only targeted universities, but homed in on their libraries—and deliberately so. The day after the Tarnovsky House and Library for Youth in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, was hit by Russian ordnance in March last year, the governor, Vyacheslav Chaus, went to inspect the damage and caustically remarked on his Telegram channel, “A stadium and a library. Such strategic objects.” His sarcasm missed the point: The destruction of knowledge and erasure of memory has always been a war aim for those who seek to impose their own version of history on the next generation. [Continue reading…]