A library founded in Tallinn after Russia's full-scale invasion to encourage children to read, learn Ukrainian, and share traditions is fundraising for more books – and its future.
MTÜ Spilno, meaning "together" in Ukrainian, was co-founded almost two years ago by book-lover and parent Daria Shiaulienie, originally from Odesa in southern Ukraine, who has been living in Tallinn for five years.
"We thought that people would probably not bring books with them here [when they fled the war]", she told ERR News during an interview at the library in Põhjala Tehas. "But for me, reading is crucial for kids, especially reading in the evenings because of the connection they can make with their parents."
Since the full-scale invasion, more than 50,000 Ukrainians have sought temporary protection in Estonia. Data from Statistics Estonia shows 11,500 Ukrainian children have temporary protection while a further 7,000 live here without it.
Shiaulienie and her family are regular visitors at Tallinn's libraries, but one of the reasons for founding Spilno is that they lack Ukrainian books.
"So we had books, our friends had books, we asked people in the community that had lived here for a long time if they have some. And that's how we started," she said.
Spilno's first home was in the National Library but it quickly outgrew the space. It has now moved to a room in Marati 5 with more than 2,500 books. These are mostly in Ukrainian, but also in Estonian, English, Russian, and several other languages.
Around 70 percent have been donated but grant funding has also enabled the purchase of new books and materials from Ukraine. The center has bookshelves in libraries in Rakvere, and Pärnu.
Shiaulienie hopes the library can help children fall in love with reading.
"Not all Ukrainian kids speak Ukrainian. A lot of them feel some pressure from society, from their parents and, for me, this is a big problem because when parents push them they usually do not want to read at all. And I want to make a space where there will be cool books in Ukrainian to encourage kids to read," she said. "And also books in a language they feel comfortable reading in. It's good when they can just try."
Many of the children are not in a Ukrainian language environment every day or do not know the language at all.
"It really helps them to find friends, to stay connected with language, because they can come here and speak Ukrainian with each other," said Shiaulienie. "I think reading in Ukrainian is the most important part to keep this language alive when they're in another language space."
While the library aims to help children learn Ukrainian, Shiaulienie says it is important people know the library is open to everyone, whatever language they speak.
The space also functions as a place to share Ukrainian traditions, such as embroidery workshops, children's speaking and reading groups, and hosts regular weekend clubs.
"It's just about creation. They draw, paint, and just craft something – felt, knit, embroidery. They just come here and say what they want to do and we try and do it," said Kateryna Priazhnikova who moved to Estonia in July 2022 from Odesa. She has known Shiaulienie since their school days and now volunteers at Spilno.
Shiaulienie said: "It's a cool thing when you can help them to bring their own ideas to life."
Up until now, the library has been supported with funding from the Integration Foundation and the Ukrainian Embassy in Estonia, but it is looking for a more sustainable solution. For example, it is run by volunteers, not paid staff.
Shiaulienie and Priazhnikova also have big plans for the future. They want to hold events across Estonia, as Ukrainians are scattered across the country, and open more bookshelves in other cities. Moving the library closer to the city center in a venue with more space is also a goal. Spilno has recently found a counselor to give sessions to parents.
"We should have more rooms because it will be good if we can provide two clubs or workshops at one time, one for adults and one for kids," Priazhnikova said.
There are also plans to get more books for adults and the pair dream of opening a book club. However, Shiaulienie, a self-declared children's literature "addict", believes kids' books are suitable for readers of all ages.
"I fell in love [with children's literature] and I want to spread this love and share it with other people," she said. "I think children's literature can speak directly to adults' hearts and help them."
Editor: Marcus Turovski