What is the problem?
On the front lines, our military defends and frees Ukrainian territories from the invaders, and in the rear, institutions that previously engaged in purely peaceful affairs become areas of another front.
Despite all the difficulties, Ukrainian wartime libraries not only hold informational and educational fronts but also become powerful support centers for the most affected by the war.
The Ukrainian wartime library is much more than just books. How Ukrainian libraries help IDPs today, we tell in our article..
What are the solutions?
During almost 11 months of full-scale war, most of the country's libraries turned into counseling centers for IDPs. In them, people fleeing the war receive information about the work of bodies and institutions, volunteer centers. Here you can get help in processing the necessary documents and payments and learn about the places where humanitarian aid is distributed. Moreover, libraries themselves have become distribution points where you can get basic necessities. Such humanitarian headquarters, for example, function on the basis of the Poltava Regional Scientific Universal Library, named after Kotlyarevsky, and the Lviv Regional Library for Youth.
However, our libraries are not limited to the simple distribution of humanitarian aid. For those who lost their usual way of life, work, and home due to the war, they become multifunctional, free, and accessible platforms for communication, personal and professional development, creativity and recreation. And most importantly, cozy and calm places for healing and recovery.
How does it work?
In Drohobych, Lviv Oblast, a modern multimedia co-working center was opened in the central city library named after Vyacheslav Chornovil. It has everything necessary for work — desktops with computers, headphones, a whiteboard with a set of markers, etc.
The co-working space is open during library hours. In addition to work, if necessary, presentations or business meetings, online training, or master classes can be held there.
The project also provides a training course for IDPs living in Drohobych who want to open their own business. The course will cover organizing a wartime business, finding financing, accounting, and other important points.
Since the beginning of russia's full-scale military aggression against Ukraine, the Rivne region has taken in more than 68,000 internally displaced persons. All of them returned to work and study at some point, but not all of them were able to do it on their own. Therefore, Rivne libraries have transformed into digital hubs that provide access to distance education and work. It was not without international support, so libraries received 50 computers.
So now there are more hub libraries with modern computers and equipment in the region's communities. From now on, residents of communities and displaced people can look for work, freelance, or take training courses there. They also plan to train "digital" trainers based on the Rivne Regional Library. They will be library employees — they will conduct training for IDPs and local communities in their settlements.
The scientific library of the Uzhhorod National University also has something to be proud of because it was here in December that the modern "Co-working for IDPs" was opened — a space for people who were forced to leave their homes.
The idea of a co-working space for displaced people arose in the institution in the first days of the war — the nearby university dormitories became home to more than a thousand people. People fleeing the war had only basic necessities with them. Having recovered and adapted to the new realities, the displaced people began to return to work — mostly remotely. Then the library was equipped with university computers, and the educational institution employees even brought their own equipment. And so, in November, the library received 15 new modern laptops. Now the displaced people staying in Uzhhorod can work comfortably and take care of their own affairs.
Language courses in libraries
Language is of great importance — no less than one's own destiny and home. In the Lviv region, the Novorozdil city library for adults conducts Ukrainian language courses for IDPs, "Language unites." The library is sure: these classes unite hearts, views, and, most importantly, the dream of speaking Ukrainian in our native Ukraine. The Ukrainian language teachers of local educational institutions and the city administration are helping to realize this goal.
And in Kropyvnytskyi, in the regional universal library named after Chyzhevsky, there is a language club where participants practice speaking English. The language club is led by a volunteer from the United States, Bill Thomson. Anyone who is a library reader is welcome to come and chat. Participants choose any topic and discuss it with a native speaker.
The library staff also teaches English here, in particular to IDPs. They already have experience — before the start of a full-scale war, groups of civil servants were recruited here. "Now the situation has changed, civil servants cannot go to classes, and we have changed our priorities. We recruited a group of IDPs. Most of them are from Mariupol," the library staff shares.
Legal advice among books
Since July, in the Dnipro district of Kyiv, on the basis of the library named after Kostiantyn Simonov, the Comprehensive Consultation Center for IDPs works. You can come here without an appointment and get professional answers to current questions (for example, about document preparation, benefits, employment, placement of children in educational institutions, etc.). The center is convenient because IDPs can get all the necessary information in one place, and they do not need to visit different institutions. For people who have just arrived in the capital, it is very convenient and helps to solve important issues without unnecessary stress.
And every Thursday, here you can get consultations from specialists in social work of the Center of Social Services for Family, Children, and Youth of the Dnipro district of Kyiv. So, for example, among the latest topics of discussion were: methods of combating human trafficking, protection against violence, and labor rights of servicemen and members of the Territorial Defense.
Psychological support in libraries
In the regional library for youth in Zhytomyr, psychological workshops "Recovery and resilience" are held for displaced people. According to the trainer of the educational program, during the workshop, you can learn more about your own mind and emotions, learn to work with stress, and relax effectively. Workshops for IDPs are free of charge. "We are all traumatized on some level (by the war, — ed.)," says trainer Olena Yeromina. "These techniques help me personally a lot."
Olena Yeromina is an IDP from Kramatorsk. In the regional library for youth, a woman shows exercises to help displaced people cope with panic attacks and stress. So, physical exercises can relieve tension in the body, breathing techniques reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep, and conscious thinking helps overcome negative reactions.
And in the scientific and technical library of Dnipro, a group of psychological support was opened for children affected by military actions. Nine-year-old Andriy from Kharkiv tries not to miss a single creative master class.
"I like it here. I'm making a family tree, I'm strengthening it, and there will be more fruits," the boy says. Children do a lot of exercises here to calm down. For example, a deep breathing exercise. For this, imagine a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. You smell the flower and blow out the candle.
According to psychologist Oksana Don, both children and adults need crisis psychological help. "When a child has panic attacks, nightmares, does not want to eat, has a psychosomatic disorder, a headache or aggression, we provide help in contact with a psychologist," the specialist says.
A psychological support group for children affected by war meets every Tuesday. To register, you must have a certificate of an internally displaced person.
IDP children are offered interesting and useful leisure time at the regional library for children named after T. G. Shevchenko in Khmelnytskyi. Librarians are happy to meet children and conduct creative activities for them, and children learn new things and just have fun. And to make these classes even more useful for children, the library is involved in new partnerships. Thus, the public organization "Institute of Psychosomatics and Trauma Therapy" conducts rehabilitation classes in the library with children of grades 1-4. It is comfortable and interesting for the young participants of the project. And during breaks, you can also play on the interactive sensory playground.
Libraries become workshops, theaters, and sports grounds
In the Pokrovsk Central District Library of the Dnipropetrovsk region, displaced people have been helped since the beginning of the full-scale war. And recently, a new, not at all standard for libraries service was introduced here: "Sewing workshop." Just among the books, a professional seamstress helps people who have been forced to move to the community to make small repairs to clothes, adjust things to size, etc., free of charge. The demand for this service proved that it is necessary and timely. In addition, several visitors to the library from among the IDPs wanted to learn how to use modern sewing equipment and obtain sewing and cutting skills. They are already actively learning a new craft.
And in Kropyvnytskyi, in the regional scientific library named after Chizhevsky, local theater actors Yevhen and Daria Skrypnyki read fairy tales to children. "It's fantastic," Svitlana Ushakova, co-organizer of the readings and head of the library's art department, shares her impressions of the first reading. "It was what I dreamed of — there was silence, and we all listened to the fairy tale."
Yevhen Skrypnyk said they intended these readings to be cozy family meetings. "More than 20 children came. It was essentially a kind of audio theater: the children left the house, came to an interesting atmospheric place, and listened to the reading."
And even in autumn, the chess tournament "Invincibles" was held right here, in the Chyzhevsky library, in support of IDP children. The event was aimed at helping displaced people adapt to a new place. And although the tournament was organized primarily for children, everyone could participate. Oleh Chyzhykov, co-organizer and chief judge of the tournament, emphasizes: "Children need special attention. And sports help to find new friends faster."
Art picnics and art therapy
In early December, a winter art picnic for internally displaced persons was held in Zhytomyr as part of the "Open Space of Like-minded People" project. One of the locations of the event was the city library named after Vasyl Zemlyak.
194 IDPs, about 70 families, registered to participate in the art picnic. During the event, everyone could find something for themselves. The children participated in workshops on making heart-shaped keychains for the Armed Forces, painted in the style of St. Patrick's Day painting, and made New Year's gifts and decorations. Adults had the opportunity to talk with a psychologist and a lawyer and learn about the city's cultural, artistic, and educational projects.
"Such events should be held so that people can distract themselves, familiarize themselves with the groups and art projects that exist in the city, and communicate with IDPs like them," says Larysa Kharchuk, director of the LITtera city public libraries. "All this is for the sake of one goal — to give joy to people, to hear them, to support their faith and hope."
According to Larysa Kharchuk, they plan to organize similar events for the displaced in the future, at least once a quarter — by volunteers and on their own.
At the same time, a workshop on art therapy for children with disabilities was held in Mykolaiv in the Central City Library for Children on December 2 within the framework of the "Help is Nearby" project. The classes were conducted by library staff.
"We have planned three psychological trainings (each, — ed.) for ten people with mental disabilities. In addition, there will be 13 master classes. And each of them will be accompanied by a physical warm-up," shared the plans in the library. Also, twice a week for three months, individual classes with a psychologist and a speech therapist are provided for children.
Librarians try to fill classes with positive moments. In the course of classes, a dance break must be held. And at the end — a tea party with goodies.
In the Zhytomyr Regional Youth Library, classes on tactical medicine called "Knowledge Saves Lives" are held monthly. Training participants are taught to help themselves and other people. The main goal is to teach people a clear algorithm of action in case they or their loved ones find themselves in a critical situation for life and health.
"We want to tell anyone who comes to our event about how you can protect yourself and your loved ones and help a person on the street in a critical situation. We show how to orient yourself, not get lost, and properly provide first aid," trainer Nadiya Nuzhda says. According to the organizers of the trainings, a person should go through such practicals at least once every six months to avoid losing the acquired skills.
And there is an equally useful example of collaboration in Poltava. In the regional library named after Kotlyarevskyi, a shelter was found at the "Tepla kofta" distribution point for displaced persons. The library helped the project, which lost its premises and was looking for a new one for a long time.
Now the assistance point for IDPs is located on the first floor of the Regional Library on the Nebesna Sotnya Str., 17. Here you can get warm clothes, shoes, women's and children's hygiene products, and other things free of charge. At this address, they will also accept things from those willing, which IDPs and residents of Poltava can then pick up.
Almost like home
In Uzhhorod, the Transcarpathian Regional Scientific Library started a tea party and, with it, psychological support for IDPs aged 60+.
A kettle is steaming, homemade goodies are on the table, and trusting and leisurely conversations are taking place. Everything is almost like at home. Only in fact — in the library, which today is not just a book store, a cultural hub, but also a place of peace for those forced to leave their homes.
And in Cherkasy, the central city library for children implemented the charity project "Congratulations to the birthday boy/girl." After all, even during the war, every child deserves a happy childhood. In the library, we are sure that there are no other people's children. And the birthday should be a day full of fabulous dreams and hopes. Two birthday girls from Melitopol — Stanislava and Anastasia — were the first to be greeted in the library. The girls received gifts and positive emotions that are needed now.
Even more useful solutions!
The realities of wartime dictate the need for new forms and solutions for the libraries themselves. A mobile and modern library, Ideas Box, was opened in Vinnytsia. The mobile library is equipped with Internet access, a printer, tablets, board games, and electronic and paper books. The Ideas Box even has its own cinema! Such a library will also function in war conditions as a space for integrating IDPs.
Implementation of Ideas Box in all 63 communities of the region is planned already this year. The advantage of such libraries is that the system can be deployed anywhere because it works completely autonomously and has its own power generator.
This material was created by the online media outlet Rubryka within the framework of the "Ukrainian Rapid Response Fund" program, implemented by IREX, with the support of the US State Department. The content is the sole responsibility of the Rubryka online media outlet and does not necessarily reflect the views of IREX or the US State Department.
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