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For the first time ever, books by Lithuanian authors in Ukraine will be available in audio format

Lithuanian Culture Institute
Knygos. Books

Photo by Rūta Statulevičiūtė-Kaučikienė

Last week, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, the Lithuanian Library for the Blind and the Lviv branch of the Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine signed an important cooperation agreement, which will provide an opportunity to release books by Lithuanian authors translated into Ukrainian in audio format and make them accessible to everyone, including those with special reading needs, those who like to listen to literature being read,  and those learning Ukrainian. As soon as at the end of June, the first audiobook for children by Ignė Zarambaitė and Greta Alice Emil’s Letter (original title Emilio laiškas) will reach audiences. It will later be followed by other books by Lithuanian authors translated into Ukrainian, among which is Rimantas Kmita’s novel The Southside Chronicles (original title Pietinia kronikas) written in Šiauliai dialect and translated into the Surzhyk dialect of Eastern Ukraine, the area currently the most devastated by the war.

For Ukrainians with special reading needs – Braille and audiobooks

The war in Ukraine and the consequent influx of refugees into Lithuania mobilised not only the governmental and non-governmental sector but also the cultural sector. The concern of the Lithuanian Library for the Blind (LAB), which provides services to everyone with special reading needs, became the realisation that among the Ukrainians arriving in Lithuania, most of whom were women and children, there may be blind and partially sighted people, as well as children suffering from dyslexia.

“We didn’t have books in Braille or audiobooks in Ukrainian,” Dalia Balčytytė, head of the Information Resources Department at LAB, remembers the intense beginning of spring. “We store audio and other accessible-format publications in the virtual library ELVIS (elvislab.lt) and can get them in any Western European language, but to people feeling the war, we wanted to offer something closer to their hearts. We contacted Oksana Potymko, the head of the Lviv branch of the Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine, with whom we have been friends for many years.”

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Oksana, who herself is blind, understood the problem at hand very quickly. Within a few weeks, 100 publications in Ukrainian written in Braille reached Lithuania, and the virtual library ELVIS was enriched by as many as 200 Ukrainian audiobooks for children and teenagers.

State-of-the-arts, universal-design books born in Lviv

The team at the Lviv branch of the Assembly of Persons with Disabilities of Ukraine produces exceptionally creative Braille and audiobooks. While Braille helps those who rely on their fingers in reading, audiobooks are for everyone who enjoys a good book. “We publish books in universal design, too, in which the text is presented both in Braille and in regular font. The books are complemented by coloured relief drawings that can be read by both the fully-sighted and the blind. Each originally designed book also contains a QR code in the tactile frame, which takes the reader to the audio version”, says Potymko about the current possibilities of publishing specialised books.

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Not only the published books but also the very process of their creation fulfils an extremely significant social mission. “To record audiobooks, we invite not only famous Ukrainian actors and performers but also blind children. It is a creative process of inclusion through which famous actors help blind children to discover their talent for acting from an early age. For several years now, we have been witnessing how books bring together various social groups, offer belief in the good and bring back the joy of life,” says the head of the Lviv branch, adding that books in Braille are becoming more and more popular in Ukraine and occupy a stable position at popular book fairs every year.

Selected literature to strengthen cultural and human connections

Audio publications from the ELVIS virtual library and publications in Braille have already been used by Ukrainians who fled the war and temporarily settled in Lithuania. However, as always, there is the desire to do more – not only to give the opportunity to those who have special reading needs to read in their mother tongue but also to open Lithuanian culture to them by introducing everyone who reads Ukrainian to the works of Lithuanian writers, poets and thinkers.

This issue was solved by the Lithuanian Culture Institute, which for many years has been running the Translation Grant Programme.

“Audiobooks cross borders easily, so they offer an opportunity to get to know Lithuanian literature not only to readers in Ukraine but also to the expanding Ukrainian community here in Lithuania due to the current war, and strengthen the cultural and human ties between our countries. We hope that audiobooks will also be of use as a means of bibliotherapy and help war refugees, even if for a brief moment, overcome homesickness and anxiety, and give them hope”, says Aušrinė Žilinskienė, director of the Lithuanian Culture Institute, about the special tool of the Translation Grant Programme.

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Books by Lithuanian authors published in audio format can be read by people who speak or are learning Ukrainian all over the world: in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and other countries where there have historically been communities of Ukrainians or where they are being established as the result of the war. All that users will have to do is connect to LAB’s virtual library ELVIS and download publications from there.

Potymko says that she believes in the success of the tripartite cooperation with the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Lithuanian Library for the Blind. “We are happy that, thanks to the joint Lithuanian-Ukrainian project, Ukrainian readers will have the opportunity to discover a new literary world for them, that of valuable works by Lithuanian authors! We are delighted to contribute to the dissemination of Lithuanian literature among Ukrainian readers, as well as among people with special reading needs. We very much hope that this project will soon spread to other European countries as well”, shares her optimism Potymko.

Translations of Lithuanian literature into Ukrainian have been gathering speed since 2016, after the Lithuanian Culture Institute began developing the cooperation project Lithuania – Ukraine: Cultural Partnership. So far, the institute has supported the translations of 32 books. In addition to the already mentioned titles, published in Ukraine in recent years were the following: Virginija Kulvinskaitė’s when i was a malalietka, Ričardas Gavelis’ Vilnius Poker, Dalia Staponkutė’s The Third Country. My Little Odyssey (original title Iš dviejų renkuosi trečią. Mano mažoji odisėja), Algirdas Julius Greimas’ iconic work Of Gods and Men. Studies in Lithuanian Mythology, Siberian Haiku by Jurga Vilė and Lina Itagaki, The Fox on the Swing (original title Laimė yra lapė) by Evelina Daciūtė and Aušra Kiudulaitė, In the Shadow of Wolves (original title Mano vardas Marytė) by Alvydas Šlepikas, Dominic the Horse in Love (original title Arklio Dominyko meilė) by Vytautas V. Landsbergis and books by other Lithuanian writers, as well as collections of poetry by Marius Buroks, Tomas Petrulis and Gintaras Grajauskas.

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These works were translated into Ukrainian by talented literary translators Beatričė Beliavciv, Larisa Poliakova, Vladyslav Zhurba, Dmytro Čerednyčenko and other colleagues who dedicate their labour to spreading Lithuanian culture. With the consent of the authors, these and forthcoming books will be recorded in Ukrainian.