Fact Check: Has Ukraine Banned 19 Million Russian Books From its Libraries?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to the damage and destruction of many of the country's cultural and historical centers, such as the Kharkiv opera house and the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol.

Ancient Ukrainian historical artifacts have also been hit, with reports that collections in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions have been seriously damaged or completely destroyed.

With such destruction of Ukraine's history, Kyiv has taken steps to address Russian cultural presence in the country, with one social media post claiming that the government had "banned" 19 million Russian books across its libraries.

Russian Books
A file photo of an annual high quality fiction and non-fiction book fair in Moscow on December 1, 2022. Getty

The Claim

A tweet posted by user @EndWokeness, on February 7, 2023, claimed that the Ukrainian government had banned 19 million Russian books from its libraries.

The tweet, which has been viewed more than 145,000 times, read: "19 million Russian books were just banned from Ukraine's libraries

"If you think book-burners are the good guys, you need to learn history."

The Facts

Last year, the Ukrainian government voted to place restrictions on Russian books and music, blocking work by artists that held Russian citizenship after the collapse of the Soviet Union, reported The New York Times.

However, the most recent claim that 19 million Russian books have been banned is missing important context.

As reported by Reuters, Ukraine has announced its withdrawal of 19 million books from its libraries.

According to a statement published February 6, 2023, on the website of the Verkhovna Rada (the country's parliament) as of November 2022, 11 million books in Russian had been "written off."

Yevheniya Kravchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on humanitarian and information policy, said that "some Ukrainian-language books are also written off of the Soviet era."

"There are also recommendations to write off and remove books whose authors supported the armed aggression against Ukraine," a translation of Kravchuk's statement read.

"There is a whole list of such authors who fell under sanctions. In general, the ratio of books in Russian and in Ukrainian in our libraries is very sad.

"So now it's about, that it is rather necessary to renew funds and purchase books in Ukrainian."

This is where the tweet about the "ban" misleads. Crucially, the tweet doesn't give us this additional context to judge the reporting of the story correctly.

Without further information, we can't know whether all the books banned were by Russian authors or about Russia, whether 19 million separate books were banned or what proportion of Russian-language books will be replaced by Ukrainian editions.

To say the books were "banned" suggests that all 19 million will be outright unavailable, details that the statement by Verkhovna Rada does not clarify.

While that possibility exists, the information available at the time of publication means we cannot be certain of that as fact.

Newsweek has contacted the Verkhovna Rada for further information.

As noted by Reuters, a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, published in 2019, found that as of 2004 30 percent of the country spoke mostly or only Russian. About half of the country spoke mostly or only Ukrainian, according to the report.

Ukraine has previously reported that military police in the occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions had destroyed Ukrainian literature and history textbooks from libraries.

A statement by the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine said texts being seized included history books on liberation movements and "school textbooks of the history of Ukraine, scientific and popular historical literature."

Newsweek has contacted @EndWokeness for comment.

The Ruling

Needs Context

Needs Context.

According to a statement released via a Ukrainian parliamentary website, 19 million books, including 11 million Russian-language books, have been removed from the country's libraries.

While the Ukrainian government has said there are "recommendations to write off and remove books whose authors supported armed aggression against Ukraine" it claims that it will also "purchase books in Ukrainian."

The tweet suggests that all 19 million books have been banned, which the details of this story do not clarify. It may also imply incorrectly that only books by Russian authors or about Russia are being removed. Although books such as these may well be removed, the tweet does not summarize the details of this story, or lack thereof, correctly.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team