Text courtesy of Children's Library Director Julia Bliznyuk (at left, above) of Smila, Ukraine. Published with permission. Translation by Anya Fartushna (at right, above). Edited by Zach Miller.
The library is the territory of kindness! This slogan is true like never before. During the period of the full-scale Russian invasion, our children’s library in Smila has become a source of shelter and help.
Every day, after being forced from their homes, more school-aged children sign up at the library. These young readers get moral support and protection, keep their minds from worrying thoughts, and find new friends. They get the chance to read books and magazines, free access to the internet (and distance learning), play table or computer games with friends, develop craft skills, and receive psychological support.
A little boy named Max has become one of our most energetic readers. Along with his mother and grandmother, he fled war-torn Kharkiv for Smila. Max reads books with pleasure, solves puzzles, and plays with the puppets the library received as gifts from our American volunteer, Sandy Buckingham. We also gave him a gift bag provided by Mrs. Buckingham.
Despite the difficulty of these times, our patrons can still take advantage of the library. We offer online painting workshops and talks with well-known Ukrainian writers such as Lana Ra and Dara Korniy. As part of an art marathon, "Все буде Україна," the children created patriotic videos and pictures. Works of art made by the children of Smila and by those who have recently arrived are featured in the reading hall and will be published in the local media. Our readers also took part in The Nation that Reads is Invincible, "Нація, яка читає - непереможна," a project that was a part of our National Reading Week.
The library staff plans to organize art meetings every Tuesday for those children who had to leave their homes. The meetings will be led by animators, writers, and craftsmen. We hope that such workshops and classes bring the light and kindness that Ukrainian children need right now.
There are no problems with disinformation in our town. In fact, spreading fake news is strictly punishable by law. Every day, we talk with people who have come to us from different places because they had to leave their homes. Parents share their stories and the tragedies they have lived through. Yet we as a library do not publish these stories. There are meetings in the central library where people come and talk with psychologists who help. Our local media often shows the stories of these people. The media also reports on how the Security Service of Ukraine finds pro-Russian informers, and how volunteers help.
From the very first days of the war, the library staff has been active making nets for the military, bringing food to Smila's territorial defenses, and sorting food and other materials. Everybody does what they can. We try to provide moral support to those who have experienced the war face to face. With every passing day, there are more and more. It’s good they can find shelter at the library.