The war in Ukraine has sparked global outrage. Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag is now widely displayed on social sites, exemplifying symbolic support for the country. I’ve also seen the flag in front of houses in my neighborhood. Sanctions against Russia have been imposed by numerous governments. As a global profession, librarians have responded with statements of solidarity with Ukraine and horror at the destruction of libraries, museums, schools, and cultural heritage sites. SLA has strongly condemned the “unprovoked attack.” ALA has placidly said it stands with Ukraine and intends to work to provide accurate information to support democracy and freedom of expression.
Yet library associations are not totally united in their condemnation of the invasion. The Ukrainian Library Association appealed to IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, to exclude the Russian Library Association and all other Russian institutions and their representatives from all IFLA governing bodies. IFLA has declined, stating that the exclusion did not meet the conditions laid out in its Statutes. It has decided not to participate in any event, virtual or physical, to be held in Russia and issued a “response to the situation in Ukraine” that says it “stands in solidarity with Ukraine.” The Russian Library Association has called for support of professional colleagues and preservation of book collections in these difficult times, never mentioning Ukraine.
Research is also global. When online searchers retrieve scholarly articles, the authors are often from multiple countries, including Russia. Will those research collaborations disappear as a result of sanctions? The German and Danish governments have decreed an end to collaborative work between their researchers and the Russian colleagues. Should Russian researchers be punished because of the actions of their government? Should they be cut off from accessing scientific research papers? It’s a difficult call.
What about companies that sell databases and publications to libraries? Many have announced they will no longer sell to Russian institutions. (Given the devaluation of the ruble, I wonder how those institutions would pay their bills anyway.) Clarivate stopped all commercial operations in Russia and opened a resource center for displaced Ukrainian researchers. Elsevier suspended sales of its products and services in both Russia and Belarus except for some health products important for humanitarian aid. Springer Nature is honoring existing contracts but not signing up any new customers.
Other vendors have been silent. It’s hard to know if it’s business as usual for them or if they simply haven’t issued a statement. The Russian government’s crackdown on free speech can result in significant fines and up to 15 years in prison. Companies with employees in Russia would be circumspect in announcing product suspensions for fear of endangering their people.
Preservation is something librarians excel at. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UNESCO, in March 2022, verified damage to at least 53 Ukrainian cultural sites: 29 religious sites, 16 historic buildings, four museums and four monuments. Websites containing cultural information have also gone dark. Although librarians cannot stop the physical destruction of cultural sites, they can work to preserve the virtual embodiments of Ukrainian culture. Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO; sucho.org) has enlisted not only librarians but also archivists, historians, teachers, and the general public to digitize collections and archive websites. Join them as part of your standing with Ukraine.