November 4, 2016

Director of Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature on trial for distributing literature “with extremist content”


The Library of Ukrainian Literature, Moscow.

The Library of Ukrainian Literature, Moscow.

Natalia Sharina, the fifty-nine-year-old director of Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature, is currently facing trial for embezzlement and the dissemination of literature with “extremist content,” charges on which she was first arrested in October 2015. In court, the librarian was defiant: “I do not understand the charge and so I do not feel any guilt,” she told her prosecutor.

For BBC News, Sarah Rainsford writes that Sharina’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, says he has statements from witnesses who saw Russian police, when they arrived to execute their search, planting the banned books now serving as evidence.

In an interview last year with Zoya Svetova published by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, Sharina complained of the conditions in which she was being detained, alleging that officers had denied her medical attention for severely elevated blood pressure, and refused to make reasonable accommodations for her claustrophobia, a precipitating panic attack. Asked about the charges against her, Sharina said:

It’s my understanding that the case under discussion was initiated in 2010, and initially led to two searches of our library — one in December 2010, when some books were taken, and again in January 2011, when a server was seized. We were then accused of disseminating an extremist book by Dmytro Korchynsky. But this book had been expunged from our collection in 2011, and not deemed extremist until 2013.  In July 2011 the case was dismissed for lack of evidence….

On October 28 [of last year], law enforcement officials came to the library at 8:30 in the morning. Only a member of our cleaning staff was present, and she let them in. I have reason to believe that they planted a whole pile of books on us, which they then “uncovered” in their search. I noticed that these books did not bear the library’s stamp.

Later in the interview, Sharina says that an investigator urged her to confess to “using my official position between 2011 and 2015 with the intention of sowing ethnic strife between Russians and Ukrainians,” and asked her whether she “is able to tell, by reading a book, whether it is of extremist, anti-Russian, Russophobic, or radical-nationalist character.” Asked how she answered, Sharina says:

I explained to him that I’m a librarian, not an expert in literature. It’s not my job to be able to differentiate extremist from non-extremist writing. The investigator replied, “You must answer either yes or no. If you will not answer my questions, I will send you to prison.”

But even earlier than this, when I was called in for questioning in 2010 and 2011, I elaborated my position that the library is no place for extremism. I told them there had been a time when I was working in the Primorsky Library, and Bulgakov’s books were banned. We didn’t have them openly accessible. I explained that we kept banned books in a special section.

While Russia and Ukraine have long experienced literary and political tensions, these have exploded recently, with Russian President Vladimir Putin accused of meddling in Ukrainian elections in the last decade, and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Speaking to Rainsford, Sharina’s attorney said, “It’s no coincidence that it’s the Ukrainian literature library that was searched, and not a Belarusian or a Cossack one.”



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.