No one should forget who they are or where they come from: the situation in Europe with books for Ukrainians


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Since the start of the full-scale invasion, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been forced to flee to different European countries (at least 267,000 to Slovakia alone, 70,000 to  Romania and Lithuania, and over 40,000 to Latvia and Finland).

Of course, you cannot fit your home in a backpack (although our refugees, like those snails, as Serhiy Zhadan accurately put it, courageously carry hope with them), but you can carry your identity. Ukrainians abroad crave a connection to their homeland, and books in their native language can serve as that link. That is why libraries in European countries are opening shelves or even entire sections with Ukrainian-language literature. We will tell you about who creates the mini-libraries for Ukrainian readers in Slovakia, Romania and Lithuania, and why they do it, as well as where to find Ukrainian book centers in Finland, Latvia, Hungary, and Poland.


This publication is supported by the Chytomo community on Patreon. You can contribute here.

Lithuania: We want Ukrainians to meet their emotional, social and cultural needs

Perhaps the largest number of Ukrainian bookshelves can be found in Lithuania — a total of  ten, with smaller cities throughout the country collectively surpassing the capital, Vilnius.


In Kaunas, the JUSU FLINTAS publishing house created a bookshelf for children after Feb. 24 at the request of the Ukrainian Book Institute, and in Plungė, the local library began accepting donations of educational and children’s literature from individuals after Ukrainian visitors requested such literature. They collect literature for children, adults, and seniors. Children’s literature is also offered in the Tauragė public library of the Šiauliai district (Šiaulių rajono savivaldybės viešoji biblioteka).


“Since we acquired Ukrainian books, and there are quite a few Ukrainian families in Tauragė, we decided to categorize and label the books. The idea came from the head of the children’s literature department, Oksana Piečienė, and the director, Meilute Parnarauskienė,” the library said.


In Trakai, the city library does not have a dedicated section for Ukrainian publications, but it does offer a few books. Currently, you can read fiction and children’s literature there, but the library is interested in books for all age groups. Everyone is welcome to bring them.

The Klaipėda City Municipality Immanuel Kant Public Library also collects literature for children, adults, and seniors. The library received books in Ukrainian from Ukrainians who settled in the city. Publications there are mostly from Ukrainian publishers. Another establishment, Petras Kriaučiūnas public library in Marijampolė, offers perhaps the widest selection: from children’s and young adult books to poetry and short stories. The books are supplied by Ukrainian institutions and organizations.


“At first, we bought children’s books, but as more and more families came to our library looking for Ukrainian literature,  we expanded our collection to include other genres,” they explain.


The Šiauliai City Municipality Public Library also offers literature for all kinds of tastes, from children’s and young adult books to dictionaries and encyclopedias. They focus on acquiring  books for children and adults, and source them from Ukrainian organizations, libraries, and private initiatives. The Jonava Public Library not only has books in the Ukrainian language, it also offers free services to Ukrainian citizens in Jonava. “We aim to create a secure, tranquil, and enriching environment for Ukrainian residents, and actively encourage their involvement in the activities we organize,” they note.


Also, this spring, when Ukrainians began to settle in the city, The Marcelijus Martinaitis Public Library in Raseiniai introduced a new section dedicated to Ukrainian books. It was sponsored by the Blue/Yellow and Oleg Šurajev foundations. The library has both religious texts and young adult, children’s, and fiction books.


Žydrė Vėtienė, head of public relations at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, says that the installation of bookshelves for adults and children was one of the ways they provided moral support to Ukrainians during the war: “When it all started, we contemplated what we could do to help Ukrainians feel welcome in our library. Books that offer you an escape from everyday life and help you keep in touch with your home country were one of our priorities. The library staff took the initiative and quickly set up these shelves.”

Vėtienė adds that at the end of February, they designated a shelf near the main entrance for Ukrainian books. At first, they selected 37 books. Then, they compiled a purchasing list, perused online book reviews, looked at popular trends in Ukraine and Lithuania, and picked  books from different Ukrainian publishers, ultimately, acquiring  46 books for the shelf. The  Blue/Yellow Foundation later donated 38 books, and the 1K Aid Fund, initiated by Oleg Šurajev, donated an additional 27. In total, there are 160 books in Ukrainian on the shelf, each adorned with a yellow and blue sticker on the spine.


In 2022, they prepared a display of children’s books in Ukrainian in the reading room of the children’s and young adult literature department, which was constantly updated. It is marked with Ukrainian flags and inscriptions. The collection was also replenished with donated Ukrainian-language books. It now comprises 353 publications in Ukrainian: 287 fiction and 66 specialized literature, primarily published between 2017 and 2022.

“Before the [large-scale] war began, there was practically no demand for books in Ukrainian, with only sporadic interest in children’s books. Today, the demand has increased several times,” notes Žydrė Vėtienė, adding that adults mostly borrow fiction, psychology, and books for learning the Lithuanian language. During this period, children and young people have already borrowed 816 books in Ukrainian, with fiction being the most popular. Interestingly, Ukrainians are reading not only in Ukrainian, but also in Russian, Polish, English and Lithuanian.

In order to have the funds to create bookshelves, the Martynas Mažvydas National Library cut back on purchasing English-language books and stopped buying Russian-language ones entirely. The library purchased more than 80 books at its own expense; the rest were donated by charitable foundations, the Ukrainian Center in Lithuania led by Algirdas Kumža, the Chernihiv City Hall and individual readers.


Vėtienė stresses: “It is important to show Ukrainians that we support them. I am glad that the initiative with books in Ukrainian is widespread in Lithuania and is being implemented in most libraries.”


The biggest problem the library is currently facing is procuring books from Ukraine due to the complications arising from the war. In addition, there is not enough shelf space for Ukrainian books in the open collection, so the library cannot display all the books it has simultaneously.


“Ukrainian refugees have often been pleasantly surprised that we have dedicated shelves of Ukrainian books. Such attention to their needs shows support in this critical situation. We want Ukrainians to feel welcome and to be able to meet their emotional, social and cultural needs. Access to books in their native language in a foreign country helps to preserve cultural identity and communication with compatriots,” Žydrė Vėtienė says.

Romania: Literature in the native language is a bridge to culture, an antidote to loss of identity

In Romania, an initiative called Do Little Reading — Cluj Books Hub has been established by  Lukasz and Maria Lichtenberg. They say that initially, the project did not focus on Ukraine; it aimed to promote reading with and between children. The initiative began with the Do Little Reading founders reading to children in various locations and expanded to include reading activities for children and promoting reading among young people.


“When the new phase of the war started in Ukraine, we were all shocked. The first refugees arrived in Cluj-Napoca, a city in Transylvania, just one day later. Some of them stayed near our house, and we decided to spend some time with two Ukrainian girls in the park, thus giving their parents some free time to adjust and think about what to do next. The girls were playing with our children, and we thought about what we would miss in their shoes. The girls spoke fluent English, so we offered them some books, which brought them great joy. I think that was the moment when the idea was born,” says Lukasz.

Lukasz is Polish, and his wife Maria is Romanian. The couple lives in Romania, but they drew inspiration for the bookshelves from the Polish context, where there had been a higher demand for Ukrainian books even before Feb. 2022. In recent years, Poles have been setting up libraries and bookstores for Ukrainian children due to the growth of the Ukrainian diaspora and families living there. “After Feb. 24, they learned how to organize it on a larger scale, I gathered all the necessary information, and we decided to try to implement it on a smaller scale in Romania,” he says. Unlike in Poland, there was little to no demand for Ukrainian books before Feb. 24, which made the situation more challenging for the Lichtenbergs:


From the onset, we had good people around us who helped us a lot. We started by raising funds and looking for layouts of Ukrainian books to be printed in Romania. We received the initial donations from friends, generous individuals, and supportive NGOs who believed in the idea. Once the first books were printed, we started sending them to community centers that catered to Ukrainian children and distributing them among bookstores. Everywhere the books were displayed, there was a jar for donations. Later, more people joined our project, setting up displays with books and donation jars in restaurants, coffee shops, and other locations.


The Lichtenbergs say they started ordering books directly from Ukrainian publishers. With the funds they raised, they were able to order books from several publishers. However, as the needs grew, they found themselves facing financial constraints. Then Do Little Reading received help from artists who offered their works for auction to raise funds. NGOs also played a role by covering the cost of some of the books.

Do Little Reading reached out to most Ukrainian publishers. The Lichtenbergs were deeply moved by the publishers’ understanding of the needs of Ukrainian children. Despite their own need to sell books and generate income, many publishers offered free books for refugees in Romania.


As the initiative experienced growing demand and increased supply of books, it faced another challenge: logistics. There was no established courier or regular logistics company operating between Ukraine and Romania. However, Do Little Reading received valuable assistance from Romanian NGOs that transport humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as from volunteers who collected books in Ukraine at certain locations where the Lichtenbergs could arrange for a car to pick them up.


“I have to admit that everyone wanted to help, in Ukraine and in Romania, and it worked. We wrote everywhere to get help with books, and the first official institution that responded and helped in a very short time was the State Committee on Television and Radio. They quickly organized everything and we received a large number of books for both children and adults,” Lukasz shares.


According to him, the funny part of the story is that the transportation of books often resembled clandestine operations. Vehicles would arrive at night with truck drivers, meetings would take place in the outskirts of the city, with the unloadings of the books often taking place at 4 a.m. The couple also utilized Poland to transport books, mostly from Lviv. Additionally, since the Lichtenbergs are from a city close to the Ukrainian border, they could spend their vacations there and bring books back to Romania.


They also purchased books in Polish bookstores, which already offered publications in Ukrainian.

“In the end, we printed almost 1,000 brochures and books in 2022. We brought almost 3,000 books to Romania. We created a Mini Library Ukraine in the office, which was visited by many Ukrainians who constantly borrowed books. Mini Library Ukraine branches operate in many cities in Romania. We have created bookshelves in many bookstores across the country. We sent books to refugee centers and to the Embassy of Ukraine in Moldova. We also sent books to specific people, and participated in two major international festivals with hundreds of stands of Ukrainian books,” the couple says.


At the beginning of 2023, the Lichtenbergs transferred all their activities and stock to the Ukrainian House in Cluj-Napoca. This is a center of activity, assistance, education, and Ukrainian culture organized by NGOs that managed the project with the active involvement of Ukrainians. According to the organizers of Do Little Reading, it was very natural and extremely useful to involve the Ukrainian House, as everything they had done up to that point had been organized by two people, without the participation of an NGO or any legal entity.


When asked about the most popular books, Lucas says that he and his wife brought what they could to Romania: “We are not experts in the Ukrainian language, so the selection was often random. The fact that we could offer anything in their native language was very well received by Ukrainians. It took us a long time to choose books from the selection of publishers with our little knowledge of Ukrainian, but the experience of being parents helped a lot: we chose books as if they were for our children. At some point we were a little upset that we didn’t have Harry Potter, which so many children asked for, but we were happy when we got such great books as The Gruffalo, and many children were very happy with Judy Moody.”


Until now, all Ukrainian books that have reached Romania have come through the Do Little Reading project or through individual Ukrainians. The Lichtenbergs firmly believe that there is a great need to create places with Ukrainian literature as long as Ukrainians live here, and that this endeavor should be done on a larger, more centralized scale, with the involvement of authorities and organizations, both local and Ukrainian, as well as the Ukrainian people living in Romania.


“What we learned along the way is that logistical challenges were probably the biggest obstacle that prevented most other organizations from taking action. While many believed in our project, they struggled with the inflexibility of meeting the unique payment and transportation requirements. In this regard, our main advantage was that we acted as individuals, without having to justify, explain or approve anything, without the burden of extensive paperwork,” says Lukasz Lichtenberg.


He added: “I think we did the right thing at the right time, and now it has to continue thanks to the initiative of stronger, more experienced organizations, both on the Romanian and Ukrainian side.”


When asked why people abroad should have access to books in their native language, Mr. Lichtenberg turned to his own immigrant experience as an example: “I am also an immigrant in Romania. I have children. I know that you have to be flexible and adapt to new conditions to survive. But native-language literature is a bridge to the broader culture, and without culture we are rootless, people without identity. No one should ever forget who they are and where they come from. Native books are particularly important for children, as they give them a sense of security. Our own children can’t imagine life without reading before bed.”

Latvia, Finland, Hungary, Poland: we want to share our compassion, learn about Ukrainian traditions and understanding of life through books

Latvia has almost as many libraries friendly to Ukraine and the Ukrainian language as Lithuania.

One such library is the Bahá’í Reference Library “Pearls of Unity” in the capital, which mainly provides religious literature for adults.


“Our community has supported Ukrainian refugees, and we realized that there is an interest in literature in the Ukrainian community. Until now, the library had books mainly in Latvian, English, and Russian,” the library said.


The Riga Central Library introduced books in Ukrainian on the initiative of its director, Dzidra Schmidt. The library has a wide variety of literature: fiction, popular science, children’s literature, young adult literature, dictionaries and encyclopedias.


The Central Library of Valka municipality offers books mainly for Ukrainian children. “This year, our city has become home to about two hundred Ukrainian residents, most of them children who need books to study or simply as a way to escape the horror they have seen. So our children’s department librarian decided to set aside a place for books for Ukrainian children who can read in their native language. She also started reading Ukrainian authors for local Latvians, aiming to foster compassion, and promote a deeper understanding about Ukrainian traditions and perspectives on life through books,” they note.


The publications available to Ukrainians include children’s literature, literature for young people and visual books.

The Preiļii main library also has a collection primarily of consisting children’s literature from Ukrainian institutions and agencies, but it offers more than that:


After the outbreak of the full-scale war, various initiatives appeared to support Ukrainian refugees. In the spring, the National Library of Latvia conducted a survey about the number of Ukrainians living in our city and how many of them had registered with our library. After that, the library started sending us books.


The Ludza Town Library receives Ukrainian publications from the Liels un mazs publishing house on its own initiative. Here you can find both children’s literature and books for adults.


The National Library of Latvia in Riga says: “We started thinking about supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. We quickly gathered information about the services we could offer to refugees and selected books from our collection that focused on Ukraine. We have created several thematic departments (on the history of Ukraine, literary relations between Latvia and Ukraine, and a large collection has been created in the Reference Information Center). It is supplemented by books received in early October as part of the Ukrainian Bookshelf project, which is supported by the First Lady of Ukraine. The library also has its own children’s literary center, where books are available for teenagers as well.”


This library offers literature for every taste: fiction, science, popular science, educational, children’s literature, literature for young people, reference books, as well as dictionaries and encyclopedias.


The Jelgava City Library collects books in different languages. “Books in languages other than Latvian and Russian are often donated. As the Russian-Ukrainian war continues, our library pays more attention to the collection of books in Ukrainian, most of which come from the Latvian National Library or are donated,” they say. 


In Jelgava, Ukrainians can find educational and children’s literature.


The Ukrainian Association in Finland (Ukrainalainen Yhdistys Suomessa) provides books in Ukrainian in Finland through the Ukrainian Center (Ukrainalainen keskus) project in Helsinki.


Nadiya Maksymyuk, Nataliya Teramae, Victoria Kononchuk, and a team of volunteers involved in the initiative manage the Ukrainian books there. According to the initiators, the library was launched in response to the strong demand for Ukrainian books from the local diaspora, which has been growing every day during the months of the war.


In Helsinki and other cities across Finland, you can find fiction, educational, children’s literature, reference books in Ukrainian, and even CDs from Ukrainian publishers.

In Poland, the Lower Silesian Public Library in Wrocław, named after Tadeusz Mikulski offers a collection of Ukrainian literature.


“We started buying Ukrainian books before the war to meet the expectations of our Ukrainian readers who came to us through economic emigration. After the outbreak of full-scale war, the number of readers increased significantly, and it was obvious that we should try to get more books in Ukrainian,” the Wroclaw library says.


Currently, the library curates literature for children, adults, and seniors: fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, literature for young people, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.


In Hungary, there is a project called «ЧитаЄмо українською» (Reading in Ukrainian) run by the Ukrainian Association “Unity” in Budapest.


“We created the project to swap books among ourselves, among friends, but over time, other people joined us because there is a great shortage of Ukrainian books. Later, we created a ‘library on wheels,’ which means we arrange and bring books to each other. Once many refugees started attending the Ukrainian School on Saturday, we decided to organize a bookshelf. Marta Barancikova and the Real School of Budapest kindly offered a place for it inside their school. This amateur library is growing every day!” the association says. They offer books for children and teenagers.


In addition, Budapest is home to the First Ukrainian Library named after Markiyan Shashkevych and the Ukrainian Space institution. “We run a kindergarten curriculum for Ukrainian children who now live in Budapest. Our employees brought some Ukrainian books with them from Ukraine, while others were donated by local charitable organizations. We give these books to our children and their parents to read at home,” the organizers say.

Slovakia: It’s important for people not to lose touch with home, and books are a way to do it

In Slovakia, the Bratislava City Library and the Malý Berlín Cultural Center in Trnava provide literature in Ukrainian.


Anna Siedykh, cultural manager, curator of the Ukrainian and literary program at the Malý Berlín Cultural Center in Trnava and the Goethe-Institut in Bratislava, says:


“We immediately responded to the full-scale invasion, organized meetings, volunteered, coordinated, and launched the Ukrainian Club project, which was aimed at introducing people who had found temporary shelter in Trnava to the city, the local community, and the cultural space. We saw that people were looking for books and were interested in this kind of bookshelf project.”

According to Siedykh, the center initially bought books from Slovak distributors Slovart, but they took a long time to arrive, about four months. During this time Malý Berlín managed to collect books through other projects with the support of the Embassy of Ukraine in Slovakia and the project of free distribution of Ukrainian books from the Slovak publishing house and the Artforum bookstore series.


“We joined the Books from Home project by the Kyiv bookstore Sense and other volunteer projects. Later we managed to get a free supply of books from the Embassy of Ukraine in Slovakia. The embassy received these books as part of the Ukrainian Bookshelf program organized by Olena Zelenska. We would like to thank Lilia Omelianenko, co-founder of Vydavnytstvo Publishing House, who has significantly supplemented our collection with high-quality graphic novels,” says Anna.


According to her, after the full-scale invasion, the demand for Ukrainian publications increased significantly, but Bratislava libraries responded quickly and are still expanding their collections. Mysteries, romantic stories, and nonfiction are in the greatest demand: Oksana Zabuzhko, Peter Pomerantsev, Oleksandr Mykhed, Olesya Yaremchuk, and Timothy Snyder. People often ask specifically about Ukrainian authors. “We almost never have Zhadan on the shelf; someone borrows it as soon as it becomes available. Readers also adore Favorite Poems and the collection of fairy tales by A-ba-ba-ha-la-ma-ha,” Siedykh adds.


The bookshelf is funded by grants from the center and utilizes opportunities from free initiatives. Malý Berlín also has a Ukrainian program: at the annual Ypsalon Literary Festival in 2022, there were talks with Yuri Andrukhovych, Olesya Yaremchuk and Lilia Omelianenko.

Ukrainian bookshelves can also be found in the Bratislava City Library and the Goethe-Institut Bratislava. Most of the books there were donated by the Embassy of Ukraine in Slovakia and the Artforum publishing house and bookstore series. “The city library is now dreaming of a complete Harry Potter collection, as it has received only a few parts from various initiatives. This story is still extremely popular among young Ukrainians. At the Goethe-Institut Bratislava, we replenish our collection not only with Ukrainian books, but also with translations of Ukrainian authors into German, English, and Slovak. We have also launched a Ukrainian book club, where every month we discuss one book by a Ukrainian author translated into Slovak together with writer and publicist Michal Hvorecký and invited guests,” says Anna.


The cultural manager emphasizes that there is demand for Ukrainian books everywhere, but there is a lack of books in Ukrainian, especially in cities farther away from the capital. There are almost no bookshelves in Poprad, eastern and central Slovakia.


“Books in your mother tongue keep you connected to your language and home, and often give you an opportunity for self-exploration. For many people abroad, the question of identity arises, and there is a need for a deeper understanding of themselves, their country and history. This helps explain why nonfiction is so popular in Ukraine, why people are constantly looking for Zabuzhko, Zhadan, Mykhed. These books tell us about ourselves and have the ability to heal. There were also stories when people came to me asking me to find a book to improve their Ukrainian. It is important for people not to lose this connection with home,” concludes Anna Siedykh.


Of course, the countries and institutions mentioned here do not represent an exhaustive list of places where Ukrainians can find books in their native language. Bookshelves are quite common in Germany (there are even book mentors there, and Barbara Schleihagen, director of the German Library Association, told Chytomo about the “literary support” Ukrainians receive), in the Czech Republic and in Poland.


Furthermore, there are at least 388 spaces outside of Ukraine that display Ukrainian books in 22 countries. The Ukrainian Bookshelves Worldwide project, conducted by Chytomo and Litcentr, surveyed these spaces and created an interactive map with the addresses of book initiatives. You can find the text of the study and the map of book centers here.


If you want your initiative to be included in the map, please send an email with the subject line “Add our bookshelf to the map” to . A guide for creating a Ukrainian bookshelf can be found here, and the full text of the study on bookshelves in English can be found here.


Translated by Maria Bragan

Edited by Jared Goyette