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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Revolution’s intellectual barricades

The Day continues to watch the Ukrainian House library
18 February, 2014 - 10:41
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

The Maidan library at Ukrainian House, now in its third week, has grown from a few boxes to several rows of stacks. There are about 2,000 books on the shelves and several times more on loan. People come to gift books on weekdays and weekends.

Most of the books arrive on Sundays. On the day of the latest people’s assembly, people filled 30 boxes with books, the librarians say. Meanwhile, visitors are coming up to choose what to read. A girl with a medical mask down on her neck takes Ivanychuk’s novel Redwood Pipe.

“This author writes a gripping historical prose. I’ve found a new book published in 2012. What surprised me here is a large number of new Ukrainian-language books,” says Nastia. She comes from Lviv and works at Ukrainian House as clothes issuer.

Indeed, there is a lot of modern literature on the shelves. There is prose, including This Is Enough for Several Stories by Taras Prokhasko, Ave, Europa! by Oxana Pachlovska, The Train by Viktor Polozhii, Snow by Orhan Pamuk, A Sunset in Urozh by Halyna Pahutiak, Taxi Blues by Yurii Pokalchuk. There are more books on the same shelf. Below stand Thyme in Milk by Natalka Sniadanko, Survival Tips by Oleksandr Ushkalov, The Prophet by Oles Ulianenko, and Three Leaves out of the Window by Valerii Shevchuk. Looking at the next shelf, I can see Entanglement by the Polish detective novel author Zygmunt Miloszewski, and Fifty Shades of Grey by the British author E. L. James.

The poetry shelf mostly displays classics, such as Yevhen Malaniuk, Volodymyr Sosiura, and Maksym Rylsky. As for the present-day poets, I could only see Emma Andriievska and Lina Kostenko. Reportedly, the most sought-after authors are Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and Lesia Ukrainka. Anna Akhmatova’s poems are also very popular.

A middle-aged man sneaks into the book stacks. He runs a book business, selling book at the Petrivka marketplace, and came here to borrow experience. He asks the librarians what publications are in the greatest demand and suggests filling the lacunas. Librarian Nicholas, his peer, says that philosophy books are being borrowed the best, especially those by Nietzsche, Jung, Bern, and Schopenhauer. The same applies to psychology and pedagogy – the shelves are almost empty, with lonely Carnegie and Sviyash gathering dust, for they are in no demand at all. Conversely, Den Library books arouse lively interest. Also in demand are medicine reference books, first-aid and massage manuals.

This literature is being sought by the masseurs who massage protesters here and at the City Hall. There are no books on psychiatry, says Nicholas, a medic by profession. Born and raised in Minks, he has been staying in Kyiv in the past six months. “In Minsk, people read more in Russian than in Belarusian. But here, people mostly want to read Ukrainian-language books. There’s also lack of illustrated books for under-threes. No French and German dictionaries. Maidan protesters are also interested in what is about self-defense: Oriental martial arts, karate, etc. There are special units here which have developed their own style of self-defense. It is usually Kyivites who come here to take a book. Those who man the barricades need crosswords and the literature that reads quickly, for example, humoristic publications. They can’t possibly read novels over there. Also needed are educational games intended for 10-15-man groups,” Nicholas says.

In his words, 30 percent of the library visitors are barricade people, and the remaining 70 percent are Kyiv-based protesters. The latter are given one book each, for they have access to the city libraries, while the barricade people can borrow as many as five at a time.

The library also organizes literary events. It received the other day singers-songwriters Irena Karpa and Antin Mukharsky as well as tale teller Sashko Lirnyk. They drew a capacity audience.

I stayed in the library a bit longer than other visitors usually do, so the guards twice inquired about me. They asked me about the voice recorder, but when I said it was for Den, they left me alone, joking. The guards have no time to read books, for they are to maintain order. Which is all too clear, for it must be safe in a revolutionary library.