War leads to huge demand for books in Ukraine

26-07-2023

Eastern Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

A Ukrainian woman sells second-hand books in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Photo AFP, Yuriy Dyachyshyn

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, bookstores in the country are flourishing. Ukrainians are determined to preserve their cultural memory.

Ukrainian literature that was almost forgotten suddenly appears in the list of bestsellers again. New book cafés are popping up regularly. Since the initial shock of the Russian invasion has worn off, Ukrainians started to get interested in learning more about the war, but also about their history or about classical Ukrainian authors, Kristeligt Dagblad writes.

Ivanna Chorna, who runs the bookshop Skovorada in Kyiv, is happy with the development. She strongly believes that recovering the Ukrainian cultural memory is crucial to winning the war. "We are experiencing a flourishing of Ukrainian culture, and people are discovering their roots. Our culture has been saturated with Russian products for far too long." Whereas Russian authors dominated the bestsellers list for a long time, now Ukrainian writers have gained popularity very quickly.

Candle glow

The demand for literature has become so great that it becomes profitable to open up a new bookstore in the country, Kristeligt Dagblad writes. Skovorada is one of them. "It was not always possible to look at your phone during a winter without power or internet, but it was possible to read a physical book in the glow of candles. So people spent a lot of time reading at home or in the shelters", Chorna says.

In the meantime, Skovorada does not only sell books but also serves as a second home for many citizens, according to the manager of the store. People like to sit in the store and read a book on the spot; others come to find company and talk to people after spending much time by themselves in their houses.

And whenever the air raid alarm goes off, people run towards the nearby metro station or flee into the basement of the store.

Collective memory

Bookstore owner Nadya Vovk believes that the bookstores are part of Ukraine's collective memory, she tells Kristeligt Dagblad. She is not surprised that Ukrainians turn to their national literature when Putin claims that Ukraine is not an independent state. "Russia is trying to kill the collective memory of Ukraine. But as history has shown, the killings of our writers [by the Soviet Union, ed.] do not obliterate our memory. After the invasion, people started searching for their identity, and now we realise that reading books is part of our cultural backbone and helps us build our resilience."

Joy

Ukrainian author Oleksandr Mykhed sees reading as a psychological mechanism. "It is about understanding that you are not alone with your experience of the war, not alone with your fear", he says. "This sense of unity gives us strength."

He noticed that people stopped reading immediately after the invasion. That is until they realised that reading was one thing the invaders could not take from them. "It's not just about reading; we also drink the best coffee, the restaurants are open again and cook the best food, it's our expression that they don't get our life, they don't get our joy in life."

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