Children need to be reminded of why we must love in times of war, says Ukrainian author

Posted on : 2022-12-02 17:44 KST Modified on : 2022-12-02 18:49 KST
The Hankyoreh spoke with Ukrainian children’s author Mariya Morozenko on the importance of literature to children in times of crisis
Mariya Morozenko, a Ukrainian author. (courtesy of Morozenko)
Mariya Morozenko, a Ukrainian author. (courtesy of Morozenko)

While literature for children and teenagers appeared in England later than in France, for example, England began contributing to the field in the second half of the 18th century. The development of children’s rights coincided with the growth of the middle class, which brought with it the formation of attitudes about children, the regulation of child labor, and the first legal definition of childhood.

Society was gradually coming to see children as representing a separate phase in the life cycle, rather than being small adults who were expected to take part in work and warfare. The crisis of children was highlighted during the two world wars, leading to the development of children’s welfare, as well as children’s literature.

In Korea, the coining of the word “eorini” (meaning “child”), the introduction of the first fairy tales in translation, and the birth of children’s literature — the centennial of which is being celebrated this year — were all inescapably influenced by the Japanese colonial era.

Children’s literature also functions as a link between children and adults. In a crisis, children can sometimes appear more resilient than adults — at least, when children have adults to depend upon. Such times activate children’s powerful vitality.

“[T]hey are focusing on what they like, you could see that through the pictures even - flowers, pets, going out with friends,” said Artem, a member of the group Behind Blue Eyes. “[They] try to ignore what stresses them out.” Artem works with children on the eastern front of Ukraine, talking to them and giving them cameras so they can take pictures of whatever they like as a form of therapy.

However, he noted that “there's definitely a trauma hiding deep inside, which may pop up explicitly many years afterwards.” 

That echoes what children’s literature writer Mariya Morozenko emphasized in her interview with the Hankyoreh. As a Hans Christian Andersen Award-nominated author, Morozenko is one of the leading figures in Ukrainian children’s literature, the author of a popular series of books based on Cossack heroes and mythology. After an in-person interview scheduled for Oct. 10 was canceled because of a Russian air raid downtown, she spoke with the Hankyoreh on the phone the following day.

The cover of one of Morozenko’s children’s books. (courtesy of Morozenko)
The cover of one of Morozenko’s children’s books. (courtesy of Morozenko)

“A writer of my acquaintance has a 10-year-old son who often cries over the war and who is suffering from severe psychological anxiety. A child of that age ought to be talking about things other than the war, but the very impossibility of that is an undeniable misfortune and trauma,” Morozenko said.

“The war makes it hard for children to attend school, and the daily need to take refuge and shelter is emotionally exhausting. Authors ought to say more about why we need to love — to love people, the world, and the plants and animals around us,” she went on to say.

“The belief that the world remains a beautiful place and that it’s worth doing good things” is what adults can share with children, and what children can share with adults.

In Morozenko’s opinion, “children’s literature helps kids tell right from wrong, it helps them grow with integrity.” That has been demonstrated by the many children she’s met so far who “sometimes teach the adults.”

The basement of Nemishaieve Lyceum No. 2 (shown here), a school in a town only 10 km from Bucha (where more than 1,300 civilians alone were massacred), served as a refuge for roughly 500 people, including around 50 children, during Russia’s occupation of the area around the capital starting in late February during its attempted advance on Kyiv. (courtesy of the school’s principal)
The basement of Nemishaieve Lyceum No. 2 (shown here), a school in a town only 10 km from Bucha (where more than 1,300 civilians alone were massacred), served as a refuge for roughly 500 people, including around 50 children, during Russia’s occupation of the area around the capital starting in late February during its attempted advance on Kyiv. (courtesy of the school’s principal)

That led her to plan and edit a collection of short stories for children in the war by more than 20 authors. The collection was published this past September. The book isn’t for sale yet and has only been distributed to libraries, many of which have been destroyed or damaged since full-scale Russian aggression.

“The writers are bringing the books to children or reading them online,” Morozenko explained.

The short story contributed by Morozenko is about a stray dog called Kolka, who is ignored by adults but cared for by a child.

“If Kolka had been a Russian dog, would the story turn out the same way?” I asked Morozenko, half in jest and half in earnest.

After a pause, she said, “The way I see it, people can be criminals, but not dogs. I suppose the dog would still have been cared for.”

While we both shared a laugh over the question, I know that what may be easy for children isn’t so easy for adults.

Books by Russian authors have been taken off the shelves at Nemishaieve Lyceum No. 2 for the purposes of disposal following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Work by the literary great LeoTolstoy can be seen among them. The photo was taken on Oct. 11. (Im In-tack/The Hankyoreh)
Books by Russian authors have been taken off the shelves at Nemishaieve Lyceum No. 2 for the purposes of disposal following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Work by the literary great LeoTolstoy can be seen among them. The photo was taken on Oct. 11. (Im In-tack/The Hankyoreh)

Ukraine has decided to pulp Russian books in libraries around the country.

At a library on the second floor of the Nemishaieve Lyceum No. 2, hundreds of works of Russian literature by writers such as Pushkin and Tolstoy were stacked up in a corner. The library in Borodyanka, which claims to be running short on books, has also singled out Russian books for disposal.

“I’d like to draw a distinction between the Russian government and Russian writers. Russia’s cultural elite need to think about whether they will choose destruction or preservation. Literature is our conscience,” said Morozenko, who counts Russian writers among her friends.

Editor’s note:

Last month, the Hankyoreh stayed in Ukraine to cover the war as long-experienced “in silence” by children, rather than the war papered over with barren front lines on maps, casualty figures and adult and political language.
We had to cancel coverage appointments and expose ourselves to danger due to Russian airstrikes on downtown Kyiv. This is something the children of the country have been enduring since February.
The world was already full of dangers like neglect, abuse, discrimination, hunger and global warming, and now war. Some 1,000 Ukrainian children have been injured or died through mid-November alone, but this figure hides the truth.
It’s hard to recreate the lives of at-risk children and adolescents through reportage using the five senses alone.
This is because to properly examine their young lives, you must also look at the future their lives already contain.
The Hankyoreh calls this duty “literary reportage.”
In a world where children face danger, stigma and discrimination, and reckless optimism, does children’s literature provide comfort? Sustenance? Dreams? Or even a basic means to testify?
A century after the birth of Korean children’s literature during the colonial era, the Hankyoreh traveled to the United States, Sweden, Malaysia and elsewhere throughout the world to inquire about the utility of children’s literature.

By Im In-tack, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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