Olena Zelenska tells how culture helps Ukrainians to fight and win
Summarizing the results of the year in the areas of her work, First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska noted the importance of cultural diplomacy during the war.
“At the very beginning of the Russian invasion, few people thought that this is precisely the time for culture. The priority was to survive physically. And then we saw how the enemy destroys our museums, starting with the Skovoroda and Prymachenko museums. We saw how the Russians were looting the museums of Kherson. And the worst thing is how they kill those who create this culture. After that, the answer to the question “Is it now the time for culture?” is not debatable. It is precisely the time. Maybe even like never before. We are culture,” the President’s wife said.
The First Lady spoke about the cultural projects that were planned back in peacetime, but acquired a new meaning during the Ukrainian resistance to the aggressor.
This is, in particular, the Ukrainian Bookshelf.
“The Ukrainian Bookshelf project was conceived even before the invasion. There was an idea to introduce our literature, philosophy, and history to the world more broadly through its leading libraries. But during the full-scale war, it also became clear that the “shelf” acquires strategic importance – our literature also became a symbol of Ukrainian invincibility. And the books aroused interest in the world, to which we must also respond,” Zelenska said.
The project is implemented jointly with the Office of the President of Ukraine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, and the Ukrainian Book Institute in cooperation with the State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine and the Kyiv School of Economics Charitable Foundation (KSE Foundation), which provides high-quality modern publications on Ukrainian history, philosophy and other literature for the “shelf.”
Currently, the Ukrainian Bookshelf project has been implemented in 27 countries: Austria, Turkey, Lithuania, Slovakia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Latvia, Finland, Jordan, Croatia, Lebanon, Japan, Belgium, Albania, the Republic of Korea, Germany, Qatar, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Moldova, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan.
The wife of the President of Ukraine personally presented books from the KSE Foundation for Ukrainian bookshelves in the Central Library of the Masovian Voivodeship (Warsaw, Poland), the National Library of France (Paris) and the Central Library of Frankfurt am Main (Germany).
Another cultural project under the patronage of the First Lady is the introduction of Ukrainian-language audio guides in the world’s leading historical and cultural sightseeing attractions and museums. Today, the number of audio guides in Ukrainian has reached 54 in 35 countries.
In particular, the Ukrainian guides appeared for excursions to the National Museum of the Czech Republic, the Immigration Museum in São Paulo (Brazil), the Schönbrunn Palace (Austria), the Gobustan State Historical and Cultural Reserve (Azerbaijan), the St. Martin’s Cathedral (Slovakia), on the Oslo City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour (Norway), in the National Museum at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania (Lithuania), in the Uluwatu Temple in Bali (Indonesia), in the National Museum of Qatar, etc.
“Now this is not only a tourist option, but also a civilizational one: our language should be heard where there are Ukrainians, where the war took them. Our language itself is already an ambassador of Ukraine and our resistance, the First Lady is convinced. – So, let’s not stop. Our goal for next year is the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, the Metropolitan Museum and MoMA, the British Museum and the National Gallery in London, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Acropolis Museum, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Vatican Museums and many others.”
Zelenska also spoke about cultural diplomacy projects launched due to the war and the needs of Ukrainians.
This is, in particular, Books Without Borders – an initiative created under the patronage of the First Lady, within the framework of which publications based on the layouts of Ukrainian publishing houses are printed and distributed among Ukrainian children – temporary immigrants throughout Europe.
The goal of the project is to minimize obstacles to education, as well as to reduce the feeling of anxiety among young Ukrainians who are adapting to a new life in an unfamiliar country, providing them with a physical connection with home.
In total, more than 280,000 copies were printed within the framework of the Books Without Borders project. A total of 20 countries joined the initiative: Poland, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, Ireland, Germany, Bulgaria, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Moldova, the Netherlands, Japan, Kazakhstan, Italy, Finland and Hungary.
“Where there are Ukrainians, there is Ukrainian literature. We call this project Books Without Borders, because Ukrainian books really travel with Ukrainians to any country where they are needed. We cannot yet return our temporary migrants to their homeland, to their native home – it is still dangerous. But we can make the homeland come to them in the form of culture and native language,” the President’s wife said.
Another war-induced cultural diplomacy project, Better Time Stories, is a non-profit initiative to support Ukrainian children who were forced to leave their homes due to the war. The goal of the project is to help the youngest children (from three to seven years old) overcome sadness, integrate into the environment of the host country and keep in touch with relatives who stayed at home, thanks to books.
Within the framework of the initiative, Ukrainian children who are forcibly displaced can receive a set of five illustrated books with audio versions in the original and translated (in Ukrainian and the language of the host country) and with the possibility of recording an individual audio version for each child by their father or other relatives who remained in Ukraine.
The project was initiated by Interactive Kids Story (iKs), the founder of which is the Ukrainian entrepreneur Andriy Shmyhelskyy, and the foundation of the Dutch princess Laurentien. First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Germany Elke Büdenbender and First Lady of Austria Doris Schmidauer became patrons of the project. The initiative is implemented in four countries: Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium.
“Family reading, when mom or dad picks up a book and reads it aloud, is a real ritual not only in Ukraine, but also in all reading countries. This is an instant creation of coziness, safety and family unity. Hearing a book in a native voice is the first step towards finally meeting and being together,” Zelenska said.
The First Lady said that cultural diplomacy projects will continue to develop in 2023.
“This is a sign that our culture is an important part of the world, without which the world would be poorer. And it should also be a support for Ukrainians, no matter how far they are from their homeland,” the President’s wife said.