KIEV, Ukraine – When the fervor flags for the protesters in Ukraine's capital and they want to get away from the barricades, many head to an improvised library in one of the buildings seized by demonstrators.
Shelves with a couple thousand books have been crammed into a hallway of Ukrainian House, an exhibition center and former Lenin museum that protesters took over two weeks ago after attacking it with rocks and firebombs to drive out police who were sheltering there.
It's hardly a model of finicky propriety — no one hushes the patrons, tough young men holding clubs confront unfamiliar people — but for those who come to read, it's an oasis for the intellect and a break from the tensions of the Maidan, the downtown square that is the center of protests now in their third month.
"It's very important for the Maidan because it's cool, it's not extremist, not radical — it's study: painting, art, different projects," said Eugeniy Fedirets, a young IT specialist who was pawing through a box of newly donated books.
He was picking out some books on Ukrainian history, which one of the library's organizers, Andzhelika Zozula, said has been the most popular topic among the 200-500 people who visit every day.
The library is an element of the extensive community that has grown up around the protests, including field kitchens, first aid stations and clothes distribution booths. Zozula said the library's lending policies are in line with that communitarian spirit, trusting patrons to sign their correct names and rewarding the return of books with a piece of candy.
"Libraries in Ukraine usually are very poor," said volunteer Lilija Shmyhelska. "When we have the opportunity to bring it all together, to create it, we do it and we do it better than the government."