Ukrainian writer, pub­lisher re­ceive threats from far-right groups over chil­dren’s book


A new chil­dren’s book that en­cour­ages tol­er­ance is a good thing, right?

Wrong — if you’re a sup­porter of one of the dozen-or-more groups that threat­ened to use force to pre­vent the pre­sen­ta­tion of the 64-page book called “Maya and Her Moms” by fa­mous Ukrainian writer and hu­man rights ac­tivist Larysa Deny­senko.

The book tells the sto­ries of 17 dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing those of refugees, Crimean Tatars, Ro­mani peo­ple, kids born via in vitro fer­til­iza­tion, and adopted chil­dren.

But it was the same-sex fam­ily that ap­par­ently pro­voked the far-right ac­tivists’ ire the most, as the sto­ries are told from the per­spec­tive of a fourth grade school­girl called Maya, who’s be­ing raised in a fam­ily of two moms.

Ac­cord­ing to Deny­senko, her book teaches chil­dren not to put la­bels on peo­ple.

“Fam­i­lies can be dif­fer­ent, and they al­ready are dif­fer­ent; some peo­ple la­bel fam­i­lies as non-tra­di­tional, in­com­plete, re­struc­tured. They la­bel chil­dren as well: as or­phans, par­ent­less, a Skype child, a for­mula child,” she said on Face­book.

“I try to con­vey the mes­sage that a child needs a lov­ing fam­ily where they feel pro­tected, and it does not mat­ter how it is la­beled by any­one.”

Can­celled dis­cus­sion

A pre­sen­ta­tion and dis­cus­sion about the book was planned for Sept. 15, the third day of the Lviv Pub­lish­ers Fo­rum, the coun­try’s largest book fair.

How­ever, days be­fore the start of the fair, the or­ga­niz­ers pub­lished a state­ment say­ing that the book dis­cus­sion had been can­celled, as a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing na­tion­al­ist Pravy Sec­tor, non­par­ti­san group Sober Ha­ly­chyna, self-de­fense group of Lviv Oblast Ad­min­is­tra­tion and oth­ers had sent a let­ter claim­ing that it was “im­moral to pop­u­lar­ize a non-tra­di­tional fam­ily in times of war, when hundreds of Ukrainian fam­i­lies are losing sons, fa­thers, and hus­bands.”

Mem­bers of these groups have also threat­ened Deny­senko in so­cial me­dia be­cause of her book, the writer said. Their main con­cern is that the book in­cludes “de­struc­tive prin­ci­ples” that con­tra­dict the val­ues and tra­di­tions of Ukrainian fam­i­lies, she said.

Artem Sko­ropad­sky, a spokesper­son for Pravy Sec­tor, told the Kyiv Post that they will “con­stantly fight against LGBT ide­ol­ogy be­com­ing the norm in so­ci­ety.”

“It doesn’t mat­ter which form it takes — pre­sen­ta­tions, gay pa­rades or any­thing else,” Sko­ropad­sky said.

The let­ter was also sent to the head of the Lviv branch of Ukraine’s SBU se­cu­rity ser­vice, Lviv Mayor An­driy Sadovy, and head of Lviv Oblast Ad­minіs­tra­tion Oleh Synyutka. The au­thors of the let­ter promised to “take mat­ters into their own hands if the provoca­tive event wasn’t can­celed.”

Olek­san­dra Ko­val, the pres­i­dent of the Lviv Pub­lish­ers Fo­rum, warned that any at­tack on fo­rum events would have “a very neg­a­tive ef­fect on the im­age of Ukraine in the world.” She also stressed that the fo­rum or­ga­niz­ers are ready to have talks with those con­cerned about the book.

Hold­ing out

Even though the book dis­cus­sion was can­celed, the pub­lish­ers, Illya Stron­govsky and Liliya Omelya­nenko, sidestepped the threats on Sept. 11 by giv­ing the pub­lic free ac­cess to an elec­tronic ver­sion of the book. They added that the book “was the first chil­dren’s book in the his­tory of Ukrainian lit­er­a­ture to pro­voke threats against the au­thor and the pub­lish­ers.”

Ukrainian om­buds­man Va­leriya Lutkovska has al­ready stated that all such threats and in­tim­i­da­tion should not be tol­er­ated, as they “en­croach on free­dom of speech and con­tain signs of in­cite­ment to dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Deny­senko her­self urged peo­ple to read the book and try to un­der­stand why “cer­tain parts of so­ci­ety re­act vi­o­lently to such sto­ries.”

“I won’t hide my face, nor will I hide my prin­ci­ples and opin­ions,” Deny­senko said.

A pic­ture shows a book called “Maya and Her Moms” that has caused an out­cry from sev­eral Ukrainian far-right groups. (Oleg Pe­tra­siuk)

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