Carol Schaeffer

The New York Review

April 21, 2023

Across Ukraine, libraries devastated by the war are culling their collections of Russian-language books and Russian literature.

At a recycling facility outside Kyiv, the face of Vladimir Lenin gazed from the cover of a discarded biography among Russian copies of Dostoevsky, Nabokov, and Pushkin about to be funneled into a shredder. The books, eventually to become egg cartons and toilet paper, came from both private citizens and public libraries across Ukraine. Last June the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture published new guidelines advising libraries and cultural institutions to purge Russian-language books and Russian literature from their collections. It is now illegal to import or distribute books published in Russia. Expanding the national “de-Russification” efforts that began in 2015, the guidelines have received widespread support in parliament and among the public.

Any Ukrainian will tell you that the invasion is not only about territory; it aims to erase Ukrainian identity. The scale of cultural destruction has been staggering. Beyond the widespread looting of Ukrainian artifacts by Russians, the Ministry of Culture has reported that more than 528 of the country’s fifteen thousand public libraries have been damaged or destroyed. Even small institutions, like the museum in the sleepy hamlet of Skovorodynivka dedicated to the eighteenth-century Ukrainian poet and philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda, whose face is on the five-hundred hryvnia bill, have been targeted by rockets.