7 Feb 2023

Ukraine withdraws 19m Russian, Soviet-era books from libraries

4:33 pm on 7 February 2023
This photograph taken on September 18, 2022, shows Julia Sydorenko and her husband using string to tie up stacks of Russian language books which they brought to the Siayvo bookstore, where they are being collected and prepared for recycling, in Kyiv. - Recycling second-hand Russian-language books to raise funds for the Ukrainian army is a novel sign of the mood for 'de-Russification' since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The idea to recycle Russian-language books to help the army was inspired by customers at Siayvo who wanted to dispose of the unwanted sections of their home libraries. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

A couple drop off their Russian language books at a bookstore in Kyiv on 18 September, 2022, so they can be recycled to raise funds for the Ukrainian army. Photo: AFP

Ukraine has withdrawn from its libraries about 19 million copies of books since last November that came either from the Soviet era or were in Russian, a senior lawmaker says.

Yevheniya Kravchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on humanitarian and information policy, said that of the 19m books, 11m were in Russian.

"Some Ukrainian-language books from the Soviet era are also written off," Kravchuk said according to a statement published on the website of the Verkhovna Rada, the country's parliament.

"There are also recommendations to write off and remove books whose authors supported armed aggression against Ukraine."

It was not immediately clear what happened to the withdrawn books.

After the 2014 overthrow of then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his replacement with a pro-Western administration, and Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Kyiv increasingly restricted the use of Russian books and language.

The process of the so-called "de-russification" increased further when Russia invaded the country nearly a year ago.

In mid-2022 Ukraine restricted the distribution of Russian books, seeking to further sever cultural and historical ties between the two neighbours and undo policies that Kyiv authorities argued had suppressed Ukrainian identity for centuries.

"In general, the ratio of books in Russian and Ukrainian languages in our libraries is just very regretful," Kravchuk said.

"So now we are talking about the fact that it is necessary to renew funds and purchase books in the Ukrainian language as soon as possible."

She added about 44 percent of books in Ukraine's libraries were in Russian, the rest in Ukrainian or languages of the European Union countries.

Ukrainian is the sole official language of the country. About a half of the population speaks mostly or only Ukrainian and some 30 percent speak mostly or only Russian, according to a 2019 survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Both Russian and Ukrainian are East Slavic languages, but while most Ukrainians speak Russian, Russians unfamiliar with Ukrainian have difficulties understanding it.

Russian still plays a large role in business, culture and the media and is still widely spoken in many cities, including Kyiv, although the use of Russian has been increasingly restricted.

Legislation obliges businesses and other institutions to use Ukrainian.


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