“As I write to you, rockets are flying outside my windows and at a distance of 20 km from my house, Russian aggressors are destroying the suburbs of Kiev,” author Larysa Denysenko says in an email. “Mariupol, home to more than 400,000 people, is left without water, heat and food due to violations of international humanitarian law. A child died of dehydration today.
Denysenko, a Ukrainian writer, lawyer and public activist, emails about her children’s book Maya and Friends, illustrated by Ukrainian artist Masha Foya, which will be published by Bonnier Books UK in April. All company profits from the book will be donated to Unicef and their efforts to support Ukrainian children in the ongoing invasion.
Maya and Friends was written following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Her story of children and their different family lives took on new resonance during the conflict, as families fled and separated.
For the next edition of the book – which will also be published in Finland, Poland and Germany on April 12 – Denysenko has added a new introduction, written from the hallway where she was hiding with her mother and dog during an alert to the missile.
Denysenko, a member of the human rights organization PEN Ukraine, wanted to add to the book to talk about “how the fate of children has changed because of the war that is crippling people’s lives in Ukraine”.
“I think the story itself is great,” said Denysenko’s UK editor, Helen Wicks. “Larysa is a very talented communicator and I think the story has such resonance.”
Originally published in 2017 in Ukraine, under the name Maya and her moms, the book tells the story of a class of students, each with a different type of family. It became a best-seller in the country but drew criticism for its portrayal of a young girl with two mothers; Denysenko, Foya and the publishers have been subjected to threats and harassment.
UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of children are among the refugees who have fled Ukraine, and that among them “many are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents or family members”. The central message of the book is therefore more relevant than ever, with Denysenko saying she wrote it to “help every child in Ukraine feel protected, whether they have both a father and a mother, or just a mother. , or two mothers, or two fathers, or a stepfather or a stepmother”.
Denysenko remains in Kyiv – and from there she is determined to get her book out. “I believe cultural diplomacy, the language of books, can help people empathize, fight for the lives of others,” she says.
“With this book, I want to appeal to the peoples of the democratic world: we are here, not far from you, we are peoples of freedom and peace. We have never attacked another country. Our children are talented, brave, beautiful and strong. We deserve the whole world to join us in fighting war and against the killing of children.
“I can’t fight with a gun in my hand, but the word matters in these circumstances too.”