For Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it is "a small attempt to heal wounds." Together with the German First Lady Elke Büdenbender, she has taken on the patronage of a project that was officially launched for Germany and Austria on Saturday at the Frankfurt Book Fair: Better Time Stories helps refugee Ukrainian children with a welcome package with five bilingual picture books on topics such as comfort , love and optimism. Donations are also collected for this purpose.
Selenska, Büdenbender and the Austrian First Lady Doris Schmidauer have each recorded a book for the audio book version. Relatives in Ukraine can also use an app to record the story. "It's nice to hear the voice of a loved one in their native language and feel close to them," Selenska said. "I see it as a first step to finally be together again."
"Ukrainian children no longer have a normal childhood," emphasized Selenska in Frankfurt. "Old rituals, such as reading aloud before going to bed, give children back their home and a feeling of security for half an hour."
"Don't know what tomorrow or the day after tomorrow is"
In Frankfurt, together with Büdenbender, she distributed the first books to Ukrainian children, including two small boys from Bucha. The boys' father was injured in combat as an officer.
Selenska used the visit to Frankfurt to thank her fellow countrymen who had fled in Germany for the support they received. "I'm convinced that Germany will do everything to make our refugees feel safe here." And she emphasized that the help provided by Germany, especially in the area of missile defense, has already saved numerous Ukrainian lives. "Germany can be very proud of it," she emphasized at an event organized by the magazine "Brigitte" in the evening.
There were air raids again in Kyiv on Saturday and her thoughts are with her two children, she said. "Our planning horizon is maybe a day or two - we don't know what tomorrow or the day after tomorrow is." At the same time, a certain routine sets in: "The heart no longer races when the sirens wail. We're going to the air-raid shelter." At the same time, there are more and more people who are affected by the effects. "It hurts every time like the first time," said Selenska about the news about the dead and injured, about the human tragedies in the war.
She doesn't want her children to become victims, said Selenska, describing her family's search for normality despite the effects of the war - for example, her daughter started studying. "We are constantly in different places, the children have rarely seen their father, but they call every day."
Serhiy Zhadan, who will be awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade on Sunday, didn't just want solidarity and kind words. "We need weapons," he said at a discussion with the German Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth.
Book fair visitors are very interested in Ukraine. The Ukrainian pavilion is consistently crowded with visitors. There are already voices calling Ukraine the "secret guest country" of this book fair. "Stand with Ukraine" is written on the back of the stand's chairs, which are designed in the Ukrainian national colors of blue and yellow. Its motto is "Perseverance of Existence".
A light signal on the exhibition stand in Frankfurt also makes it clear how threatened the existence of the country beyond the EU border is: every time there is an air raid alarm in a Ukrainian city, it lights up - and it often lights up. The war in Ukraine is very close at such moments.
Warning of annihilation of Ukrainian culture
Persistence and self-assertion - for Zhadan, this is not just a question of military combat. He reported on cultural events in air raid shelters in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine - and how important the presence of Ukrainian culture is for civilians and soldiers alike.
"If Ukraine loses, there will be no Ukrainian language, culture, music or literature tomorrow," he warned. "The (Russian-Soviet) empire has been doing the same thing for decades, trying to conquer our cultural space and impose its narratives on us." He is not Russophobic and does not want to burn any books by Pushkin or Dostoyevsky. "But we have the right to be subjects. That is what Russia constantly negates and denies."
Claudia Roth also found clear words: "It's not just a brutal war of aggression, it's also a war against culture," she recalls, recalling the more than 500 theaters, churches, libraries and other cultural institutions in Ukraine that have already been destroyed. That never became clearer to her than during a meeting with the head of the library in Odessa, who was worried about the inventory of her five million books and said: "If these books burn, our memory burns."
Book project Better time stories Frankfurt Book Fair