A library in a suitcase

William Shakespeare.

Kurt Vonnegut.

John Tolkien.

Taras Shevchenko.

Lesya Ukrainka.

Serhiy Zhadan.

Tove Jansson.

Astrid Lindgren.

Roald Dahl.

An ordinary bookshelf somewhere in Ukraine.

Judging by the book spines, the resident of this apartment is the most ordinary person interested in literature. If the books are lined up on the bookshelves in orderly rows, curated by subjects, it means that person loves books. And if the books are beautiful, and there are many of them in this ordinary apartment, they are clearly much valued here.

The emergency grab bags that Ukrainians have packed since February 24 contained various things. Often, there were books in those bags. Old books passed down from generation to generation. Thick novels and poetry collections. All kinds of books.

I spend a long time drawing up a list of contemporary books, must-haves for every Ukrainian library. I make a poll on Instagram Stories among my followers and add new titles to the list. Who knows how many books one needs to make up for their previous life?

Since the big war broke out, libraries with Ukrainian books have opened across countries. “Hi,” a friend of mine texts me. “Could you please send me a list of books that Ukrainians find important? I need it for a library opening in the Netherlands.” She is a writer with a novel to her name.

“Hello,” another friend of mine emails me. “A Ukrainian library is scheduled to open in Luxembourg.” He is a publisher and a curator of the parliamentary book club.

Ukrainian book is packing a suitcase. A long journey lies ahead.

Meanwhile, reports are coming from Ukraine: 101 libraries have lost part of their collections; 21 libraries lost their entire collections. Missile strikes have destroyed books from home libraries that will never be included in the official statistics of destroyed bookshelves.

My dear friend is now living in Amsterdam. She is a children’s author and a publisher. The books she has written in Ukraine have already been delivered to her new place abroad. She feels uncomfortable without her books.

The emergency grab bags that Ukrainians have packed since February 24 contained various things. Often, there were books in those bags. Old books passed down from generation to generation. Thick novels and poetry collections. All kinds of books.

I am standing in front of my home library in Kyiv. It is large.

A mobile app sends me an air raid alert. 123 days of full-scale war. I wonder about the size of a suitcase that could fit all our books signed by contemporary Ukrainian writers. It should be bottomless, I guess.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 121 public libraries in Ukraine have been damaged. The number of destroyed bookshelves in private apartments is still unknown.

Author — Svitlana Stretovych, essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator — Hanna Leliv

Illustrator — Victoria Boyko

Editor — Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors — Julia Ovcharenko, Demyan Om

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