The ongoing tit-for-tat between Russia and Ukraine took a(nother) turn for the absurd Thursday when Russian police arrested a 58-year-old Ukrainian librarian in Moscow for allegedly “inciting ethnic hatred.” It’s a serious enough sounding charge for Natalya Sharina, who’s been the director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow since 2011. But what is she guilty of? After a *totally routine* armed, masked police raid at dawn of the library this week, some of the titles were deemed “anti-Russia propaganda.” The library carries both Russian and Ukrainian-language titles, the Associated Press notes, and gets funding from the Moscow city budget. Not particularly subversive sounding.
Reuters has a rundown of the details of the raid and interviews with disbelieving employees. It’s pretty amazing:
Employees at the library, an unassuming green first floor building in central Moscow, told Reuters armed masked men, accompanied by investigators, had detained Sharina, 58, in the early hours of Thursday morning after searching the building all day on Wednesday and carting off around 200 books and pamphlets… Investigators had also removed computers, servers and the library’s catalog, she said. State TV showed a masked man clad in black and gray camouflage leaving the library with a large white plastic bag… The library, which contains around 30,000 books, most of them in Ukrainian, has been targeted by Russian investigators before in 2010 and 2011. On Thursday, only two elderly men sat in its reading room leafing through books.
Who needs propaganda—reality this absurd is hard enough to wrap your head around. Since Russia is a country of laws, the BBC reports the “powerful Investigative Committee said a criminal case against Natalya Sharina had been opened and investigations were continuing.” Sharina could face up to four years in prison.
“We play the role of a bridge,” library employee Vitaly Krikunenko told Reuters. “Especially now when so much has been destroyed. Performers from Ukraine have stopped coming here and many other links have been severed, but our library, despite everything, provides a link.” Kiev banned commercial air travel between the two countries beginning last Sunday, but the library raid surely has nothing to do with that.