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Bridging the US/Ukraine Gap, One Shoebox at a Time

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August 6, 2023

By Aurora Rose Horn–

Meet Shaye Kirman, a 17-year-old rising high school senior from New York City who has found a creative way to educate people on Ukraine. Both of Kirman’s parents are Russian-speaking Jews from Soviet Ukraine who moved to the United States in the 70s as children. In February of 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Kirman started the Free Ukraine Library, a project which involves repurposed shoeboxes that contain 5 or so books about Ukrainian food, culture, etc. These shoebox libraries can be found in 15 (and counting!) locations in New York City, Long Island and Connecticut, as well as three in Westchester. Two are in Katonah and one, Muddy Waters Café, is in Tarrytown. Kirman said he hopes to open more branches in Westchester because he feels that since the communities are more tightly knit, word would spread more than it might in larger cities.

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The books in the “libraries” are free for anyone to take, the name “Free Ukraine Library” being a play on words and can be interpreted as both “Free Ukraine” and  “Free Library.” In order to buy the books, Kirman has done some fundraising, as well as book drives; he has two of these planned in September to collect gently used books.

Kirman’s motivation to start Free Ukraine Library was to connect more with his Ukrainian roots while also teaching people more about the country. His parents grew up speaking Russian and knew little of Ukrainian culture, and most Americans see Ukraine as just a former Soviet republic, but Kirman wanted to change this perception. “I knew about these three other aspects of my identity a lot,” he said, referring to his Soviet, Jewish and Russian-speaking sides, “but I didn’t know as much about my Ukrainian heritage.” Because he wanted to learn more about this part of his identity, he took to reading, and as he said, “What I found was fascinating, so I wanted to share this knowledge with others in settings like coffee shops and other businesses that foster community.”

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