Knowledge Matters blog

20 September 2022

The First Lady of Ukraine joins us to launch 'Books Without Borders'

'Books not only entertain and educate us - they also unite us bring us back to a feeling of home. This project is our victory on the cultural front, and it brings our primary victory closer.'

First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska

This summer, the British Library hosted a special event to mark the launch of ‘Books Without Borders’’- an initiative by the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, to print and distribute 16,000 books for newly arrived children and families displaced by the conflict. 

As the national library of the United Kingdom, we stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, as well as the millions of Ukrainian people displaced by the conflict.

As the home of the UK’s intellectual heritage with a collection of more than 170 million items, we were pleased to play our part in supporting the Ukrainian community through what we know and love most: books.  

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In support of the new initiative – a partnership between the Ukrainian embassy, represented at the event by the Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko and his wife Inna, the Publishers’ Licensing Services and book print specialists Halstan - we welcomed 40 children, their families, and Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to the British Library’s Learning Centre. Building on our existing programme of workshops and events for young people and our recent work with Afghan refugees, our Learning Team led a range of fun activities for families on the day including a special tour of the Library, hands-on bookmaking activities, and a visit to the Treasures of the British Library gallery. 

But the spirit of unity and solidarity didn’t stop there, as a surprise was in store for all present. The First Lady joined us live on screen from Kyiv to read an excerpt from one of the project’s books, ‘Stories on the 14th Track’. It’s the tale of a steam-engine train called Hryuk -  the First Lady’s team chose this book having been inspired by Ukraine’s railway workers, who are celebrated as national heroes for their outstanding public service during the war.    

As the children grapple with their new life in the UK, Liz Jolly, our Chief Librarian, reiterated that the British Library belongs to everyone. She concluded by remarking ‘we want you to know that the British Library is your national library too. I hope you’ll also use your local public libraries wherever you are, and enjoy everything they have to offer.’

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And in that spirit, we will continue to work with the Ukrainian partners over the coming weeks and months to support Ukrainian refugees in the UK.

Blerina Hashani, Public Policy and Campaigns Manager 
Rob Field, Head of Public Policy