Tuesday, 29 September

Ukrainians keep this year’s Forum of Publishers in Lviv in mind not only because of the traditional variety of new books, but also because of the conflict around the new book by Larysa Denysenko. The organizers of the Forum had to cancel the presentation of the book “Maya and her moms”  according to an open letter addressed to the head of Lviv regional Security Service of Ukraine, Lviv mayor and the head of the Lviv Regional Government Administration. In this letter, representatives of 15 local public organizations called for the presentation to be canceled, and in case of refusal, they actually promised to do so on their own. Opinion found out why the children’s book was in the center of the scandal, whether parents should hide it from their children and what citizens should expect if “Maya and her moms” appears on Odessa’s bookshelves.

Who is Maya?

Maya is the main character in the book of Ukrainian writer, human rights activist and TV presenter Larуsa Denysenko. A fourth grade student, the girl, who  loves green and cheese pasta, tells the story about her classmates and their parents. Each child, little Maya tells about, has its own story and at the same time is the empersonation of the most common reasons for bullying,  which often make the real children feel disgruntled and incomplete. These are children born after IVF, children “on Skype”, displaced families etc. The main character also has its own story – she has two mothers. It was the situation with Maya’s parents that caused the civic organizations’ outrage and the further conflict.

What was in that letter?

The letter said that Larysa Denysenko ‘s book presentation and the related discussion “whether the school is ready to talk with children on complex topics” is an attempt to impose Ukrainian students “destructive principles that contradict the values and traditions that were originally formed in Ukrainian families “. And the events themself, due to the signatories, are “open propagation of non-traditional family values”. The letter ends with a direct threat, where the authors promise to “take all possible measures” in case where addressees do absolutely nothing to deal with the situation.

What was the publishers’ reaction?

After getting the letter, the organizers of the Publishers Forum and “Vydavnyztvo” publishing, which published the Maya story, decided to cancel the presentation. However, throughout the forum, Larysa Denysenko’s book could be bought on a discount, and a free electronic version of “May and her Moms” was released online.

We came to the Forum of Publishers and met with the co-founder of the Publishing House Ilya Strongovskiy to find out how this situation affected the further fate of the book. Ilya states, that   the story of Maya received the publicity it deserved from the very beginning.

“I am grateful to all “right people” for their invaluable input in bringing this information to the wider audience. I have never had  so many good and interesting ideas, which came to my mind only because of such a reaction. If they protested against a small presentation in Lviv, I want to see what they will be able to do in Ternopil, Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk. I’m going on tour around the whole Western Ukraine with this book to show that there is no place for hate in our state “, –  Illia Strunovskiy told us.

What was the author’s reaction?


After  letter’s disclosure by the organizers of the Forum of Publishers, the author of the book made a post on her page in the social network. She told in it, that  there is actually her surname in all the threats and the Forum tries to hide this information.

All my professional life, I oppose violence and advocate tolerance, – claims the writer. In the opinion of at least 15 organizations of the far-right and the Church, it is such a behavior that makes me witch of the XXI century. The international community can make you  the UN goodwill ambassadors, if you are against violence, support tolerant attitude and dialogue . But, at the same time, for all this actions you may get violent threats from your compatriots.

What do children’s authors think?


“Maya and her moms” – is not the only children’s book, presented at this year’s Publishers Forum. We decided to ask Larisa Denisenko’s colleagues, whether, in their opinion, the new book of “Publishing House” is appropriate for reading. Tetyana Pakalyuk, a children’s writer, shared her thoughts with us.

“I believe that the author has the right to write about everything that concerns her, because she is a part of society. And hence, there is a part of society that is also concerned with this topic. Read this book or not – it’s up to the reader to decide. Moreover, as for me, a civilized person must be tolerant. The things made by these “radical comrades” are intolerance, and therefore it is non-civilization and non-progressiveness”, – the writer summed up.

Psychologists’ comment

As we have already mentioned, the authors of the open letter emphasized that the book is the promotion of non-traditional values. And the children are the most vulnerable to such an influence, on the signatories are convinced. We asked an analytic psychologist, “Parent-child relations”expert , teenager coach Anna Boychenko for a comment to find out if this thesis is true.

“Thinking of the propaganda content , that the Lviv activists can see clearly, I remembered the saying “The things you say about others say a lot about you.” This book is really propagandistic … It promotes unconditional love and tolerance  to someone, who is different. This is a book about real families in Ukraine, or even about families all around the world. And for children its hard sometimes to understand their dissimilarity with the standard of living that the society shows. This is a book about acceptance, permission to be different and to have your own place in life “, – the psychologist  told.

Also, Anna Boychenko points out that the book invites the reader to form their own thoughts, because each story ends with the questions “And what do you think?”, “And what happens to you?” The psychologist assures that the real propaganda hardly implies the existence of your own thoughts . In addition, according to a specialist, “Maya and her moms” is a book about the things, that usually left behind  parents-child conversation. As a rule, adults decide everything for their children, but this does not mean that the child has no worry about it.

Only Maya?

The situation with the book by Larysa Denysenko is not the first case when the presentation was canceled due to the petitions and threats of the third party. So the presentation of the “Shooted Calendar” by Olena Gerasimyuk was canceled at this year’s Bandershtat festival in Lutsk. According to the organizer of the literary part of the festival, the April post of the writer in the social network where she supported the participants of the KyivPride , caused the breakdown of the presentation. We met with Olena after the presentation of the “Shooted Calendar” at the Forum of Publishers and asked if it looking for any tendencies in the situations with the “Calendar” and “Maya” make any sence.

“When my book’s presentation was canceled, many people thought that these were some of my personal “showdown”, asI had previously worked with the prison and the camp topics, in particular with people who are connected with political parties or who stayed in a jail, etc. – the writer says. – But then I insisted on it and said, that  it won’t stop.

And in fact, we see that the tendency  is in a wider context and applies to all people who can be offended in one way or another. So here is Denisenko, and the situation with Sashko Zakletskiy. And they are not the only ones, sadly, we can add the other to this list . Only power and local government is important  for these people, and it does not really matter who will suffer if happen on their way. At some point, even the person with absolutely right views can become the object of their persecution. And there is nothing surprising, here is the tendency.”

What to expect during  further presentations, including one in Odessa?

There are organizations that operate not only within the Lviv region and Western Ukraine among the signatories of the open letter. Therefore, it is likely that such a situation can happen in any city.

One of the signatories of the letter is the Lviv center of the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. We appealed to his leader, Mykola Kokhanivskiy, to see if the position of Lviv activists coincided with the views of the organization as a whole and whether such actions should be expected during future events.

According to Kokhanivskiy, the position expressed in the letter is the position of the organization as a whole. And the Volunteer Movement of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists “will do everything to prevent spreading of gender ideology in any way in Ukraine”.

Text: Dmytro Zhuravel

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