Thousands of miles from UC Berkeley, in libraries across Ukraine, the creak of staggered chairs has been replaced by the howl of air raid sirens, and the distant sound of old pipes by the shudder of shells of mortar.
This distressing reality came into sharper focus yesterday at “Voices from Ukraine,” a UC Berkeley library event that centered the stories of 11 Ukrainian librarians and their colleagues. Guest speakers, representing a wide swath of the country, expressed their personal and professional challenges six weeks after the start of the Russian invasion. The online event attracted 300 participants from around the world.
“Fahrenheit 451 by (Ray) Bradbury comes to life in Ukraine today,” said Oksana Brui, President of the Ukrainian Library Association, describing the burning of books in libraries in the occupied territories. She also lamented the devastation of valuable cultural sites, including religious and historical buildings, monuments, museums and libraries.
The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, which has developed a interactive map to document the damage to these sites, had recorded 166 entries as of the date of this publication.
Liladhar R. Pendse, UC Berkeley Librarian for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, organized the event through numerous phone calls to Ukrainian colleagues. Its aim was to give Ukrainian librarians the opportunity to describe what is happening in their country.
“The important thing is to hear people in war zones, information professionals, to give them a voice,” he said. “Because we see the media reporting all kinds of things. But I want to see firsthand how the aggression against the country targets its cultural and historical heritage and its information infrastructure. And how they deal with the situation, as librarians.