Ukrainian Little Free Library Steward Shares Her Story: ‘Be with Us in Our Struggle’

By Margret Aldrich

The Little Free Library network is a global community made up of 112 different countries. In Kyiv, Ukraine, Little Free Library volunteer steward Evgenia P. is dealing with bombs rather than books during the current Russian invasion. Above-left is a photo of Evgenia with her sunflower Little Free Library, taken in happier times. Above-right is a photo of Evgenia and her family hiding from Russian air strikes in a Ukrainian basement, taken this month.

Evgenia is a writer and literacy advocate who began creating Little Free Library “birdhouses,” as she calls them, ten years ago. Her goal was to increase children’s access to books and interest in reading. She enlisted the help of other writers, artists, teachers, librarians, and parents to make the project come to life, and over the course of a year, they created 104 book-sharing boxes in five cities across Ukraine.

Taking the project a step further, they began working with the local children to write, illustrate, and publish their own anthologies to share in the Little Free Libraries. I had the pleasure of interviewing Evgenia about this project for The Little Free Library Book, published in 2015, and she told me, “My dream of creating a reading environment for children came true. Working together makes people more tolerant and makes a more stable community.”

Dispatches from Kyiv

When we recently checked in with Evgenia, it was heartbreaking to hear of her family’s struggle during the Russian attacks, but her passionate spirit had not changed. For now, instead of cultivating a culture of reading in Ukraine, she is protecting her children and grandchildren and standing with her country.

On March 6, Evgenia wrote:

We managed to take the children and grandchildren out of Kyiv. The youngest boy is 2.5 years old. Now in the west of Ukraine in our house. There is a very small basement, where our family of 8 people is hiding during air attacks….

We help volunteer organizations to make camouflage nets, collect humanitarian aid for our refugees, make ‘bandera smoothie’ (Molotov cocktail). We defend ourselves and try to survive! Help Ukraine! Everyone can DEMAND from their presidents and parliaments CLOSE OUR SKY! For centuries, Russia has destroyed the Ukrainian people, church, and land. Now the world sees our utterly ruined cities and our murdered children. So it has NO RIGHT to be!

Believe in us and be with us in our struggle.

March 11:

Yesterday, Russian terrorists bombed us at 03:00, 07:00, 11:00, 12:00, 16:00. We all hid in our little basement for 5 hours. It’s Saturday, 5:40 and I’m writing to you from the basement….

I don’t know if our hiding place will withstand the bombing, but we, Ukrainians, MUST withstand it. We have the right to live!

March 17:

We are alive, so we are fine today….

Air strikes are now more frequent and longer. For the second night in a row, the baby and his parents are trying to sleep in the cellar. It’s cold there, +13 C. Potatoes used to be stored here a long time ago. Last summer I cooked a lot of different jams, so my husband made a sturdy wooden shelf. Now 2-year-old Romchik has a ‘secret’ little bed on the shelf for jams, which protects him. This is how we explain to the child about the war.

Eight people huddle in an area of less than 4 square meters. My husband has no health to be there. I’m frozen, I can’t hide there as long as necessary. Two grandchildren and a daughter sit downstairs for an hour, and if there are no explosions nearby, go upstairs and lie down in a corner of the hallway or room on the floor, away from the windows.

But we all have time to taste the jam….

We pray for Ukraine. We believe in our people. Glory to all the heroes of Ukraine!

In other parts of the world, stewards are showing support for Ukraine by filling their Little Free Libraries with blue and yellow books. You can support the people of Ukraine via Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. Your donation will help provide shelter, food, and clean water for refugees; health and psychosocial support; access to education and economic assistance; and more.

Read Ron Charles’s coverage of this story in his excellent Washington Post Book Club newsletter here.

Updated March 20, 2022

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