Meet Ukraine’s Youngest Library Head: His Story Will Inspire Anyone
13 May, 2017

Dmytro Ruzhevych is 14 years old and despite his difficult diagnosis he became the youngest library director in Ukraine. An expert commission even inscribed him into the Ukrainian Book of Records. Hromadske went to Donetsk to find out how he managed to do it.

Dmytro lives in the village Serhiyivka in the Donetsk region. The population of this war zone village is about 2 thousand people. Dmytro has spinal muscular atrophy. He can only move one finger. Nevertheless, he is the youngest volunteer library director in Ukraine.

In his room, which is in fact the first open library in the village, there is a huge bookcase full of books.

“We are going to take these books to the orphanages,” Dmytro says, pointing at a number of cardboard boxes with books. According to him, there is not enough space in the small apartment where he lives with his mother and sister to keep these books.

Currently there are about 1,500 books in the library, 600 of them Dmytro gave to the school library, and hundreds more – to the village library.

"A volunteer, Maksym Potapchuk, introduced me to the Kyiv fairy-tale writer Yevheniya Pirog. She called me, we talked a lot, then she offered to pick the books for the library and I agreed,” Dmytro explains.

The writer Yevheniya Pirog, a founder of the national project "Add Reading", said: "We encourage people from different cities to send letters to Dmytro and give him a chance to travel across Ukraine through them, because he doesn’t have an opportunity to do that. That’s how the initiative "Letter to Dmytro" began." Over time, people started to send books more often than letters and they had to think of what to do with them. In the end they came up with the idea of opening a library.

"People were ignoring Dmytro until he became a director of the library. Now they invite him to different events”, says Yevgeniya Pirog. “The fact that children did not communicate with him disappointed the boy very much. We began to realize that it’s not just about a new library, though this is also important, but more so about the socialization of people such as Dmytro. In such a way the population learns how to coexist and communicate with people with disabilities".

Dmytro studies the general curriculum, teachers come to his home. Serhiyivka School Vice Principal Valentyna Mykolaivna says that she also takes books from Dmytro’s library: "We were studying "The blind musician" in the 6th grade, but we did not have this book in the library, so Dima helped us out".

There are a lot of honors on the walls of Dmytro’s room: the Ukrainian and foreign literature competition "Sunflower" diploma, international scientific competition "Root" certificate, and a Ukrainian Book of Records certificate which confirms that he is the youngest librarian in Ukraine.

"I like to read fiction, detectives, fantasy. My favorite are books about Harry Potter and ‘The Heroes of Olympus’ by Percy Jackson", he says.

Dmytro dreams of becoming a computer science teacher. His mother Lyudmila is now in search of institutions where people with disabilities can get a degree. She also helps her son manage his library.

"This is a very open family. Not only Dima’s disease, but also the fact that they seek an active life, and are positive about the changes in Ukraine, makes them special. This makes them different from the rest in the village”, says Yevheniya Pirog. She also mentions that many locals don’t understand such initiatives.

Hromadske talked to the locals to find out whether they know about Dmytro’s initiative and what they think about the library. The majority of people either refused to comment or said that hadn’t heard of it. Even the village council said nothing to us, because the head was out. Only two elderly village residents and children from Serhiyivka School answered our questions and were pleased with the new library.

"People come to me to read. I offer them the books, they choose, then I put the information in the register and they get a book. Everyone is afraid of me, so nobody has been fined yet", says Dmytro.