Local library builds community for kids in conflict-torn Ukraine

Children from the remotest areas of the village who have never used the library are now visiting BiblioTECH.room to read and play

Yulia Silina, Kate Bond
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UNICEF
22 February 2020

The small and light-filled village library in Novhorodske, eastern Ukraine, is often full of people. Highschool students pick new books from ceiling-high bookshelves, while younger kids play tabletop games from colorful floor cushions in the corner. At weekends, the reading room is turned into a small cinema, with more people flowing in to watch another Harry Potter movie. But for local youngsters, this is more than just a library – it is a now safe space from Ukraine’s six-year conflict, thanks to a project implemented with the support of UNICEF and European Union (EU).

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UNICEF

Nothing is the way it used to be

The industrial village of Novhorodske, in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, is just a few kilometers from the frontline. Landmines litter the surrounding woods and fields, so many parents insist on an informal curfew for their children’s safety.

“We used to go into the wild with kids to have picnics or play football,” says 40-year-old library director Nataliia Harmash. “They said the woods had been cleared of mines, but there have been several accidents where shepherds with cows tripped a mine. Nothing is the way it used to be.”

The village has no cinema, no theme parks, no roller rinks or even a gym.

“We have no place to go after classes and during vacations, except for one destroyed playground,” said 15-year-old student Sofia Monastyrska, who must be home by 8 PM. “There are many children in the village, but no places for them to go to.”

Last year, the school was forced to cancel its year-end ceremony because of the conflict and moved sports classes indoors after a shooting near the school playground.

“A bullet flew right next to a schoolboy during the class,” says Sofia. “We do realize in what kind of place we live, but it’s a bit offensive.”

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UNICEF

Everything is new and interesting

Sofia and four fellow students were excited by the idea of creating a safe space for youngsters in Novhorodske when UNICEF and its partner NGO Polish Humanitarian Action proposed it.

“We started from thinking about what the village needs and asking residents about it,” she explains. “Then we decided we need a room where we could play, read and communicate. We had no such spaces in the village at that time.”

They decided to create the so-called BiblioTECH.room space in the village library. Before buying furniture and equipment, they attended design training in a neighboring town.

“The training and our project have helped me to better communicate with people. I used to be reserved and tacit, but now I talk to others much more.”

New chairs, a screen for movies and dance lessons, a printer and several tabletop games, all purchased thanks to UNICEF and EU, have already arrived. But local youngsters are especially looking forward to receiving new books for the library.

“We selected them by ourselves,” says 15-year-old Diana Bohynska, standing next to a pile of books that has been shaped into the word ‘Read’. “We really love Joanne Rowling’s books and wanted to have her Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in a nice design.”

The project has encouraged more locals to visit the library.

“No-one forces the kids to come here, they come on their own,” says Nataliia, happily. “Everything is new and interesting here, given that many of them have no such books or games at home because their parents cannot afford it.”

Children from the remotest areas of the village who have never used the library are now visiting BiblioTECH.room to read and play.

“Earlier, there was this desire to leave the village, but now it’s interesting here!” says Sofia.

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UNICEF

In eastern Ukraine, some 3.4 million people, including 430,000 boys and girls, live along the contact line. These people are bearing the brunt of a six-year, protracted conflict, with direct threats to their physical and mental well-being, and limited access to basic services. In one of the world's most mine-contaminated areas, fear of stepping on a landmine is a daily reality for conflict-affected communities.

UNICEF is working tirelessly to protect children and their rights on both sides of the contact line, by strengthening social protection and psychosocial support, as well as improving health, education and water, sanitation and hygiene services.