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The War’s Toll on Ukrainian Publishers

An online survey of the Ukrainian book market undertaken by Anastasiia Zagorui on behalf of Ukrainian trade publication Chytomo was conducted from March 26 to April 8. Eighty-one publishers participated in the survey, which examines how the publishing community has adapted to wartime conditions; of those, 10% said they were forced to stop their operations, including 4mamas Publishing House, Abrykos, Booksha, DIPA, Mamino, Oleksandr Savchuk, Osnova Publishing Group, and Smoloskyp. Others, such as Blym-Blym, Ïzhak, and Klio, have been severely compromised. The majority of publishers, 51%, continue to publish but have altered their operating models, taking such measures as reducing their working hours. Thirty-nine percent of publishers had not changed their models when the survey was taken.

In one comment, the team of Creative Women Publishing said that, despite the war, they are back on track with all their projects. “Despite the fact that the publishing house’s employees are geographically dispersed—some have stayed in Ukraine and others are abroad—everyone keeps in touch,” Creative Women reported.

Many publishers responded that they continue to work normally but are allowing displaced employees to work remotely and are ramping up the production of e-books. The Nash Format publishing house told Chytomo that members of its editorial department work from different parts of Ukraine and abroad, and that the vast majority of its freelancers, including translators, are continuing to work. The publisher is focusing on titles that will be of particular interest during the war and in the postwar period.

Many publishers continue working on projects they began before the invasion, including organizing readings and events. “We are looking for ways to financially support our authors,” said Yevheniia Lopata of the Meridian Czernowitz cultural festival. “Namely, we organize our authors’ readings in front of German-speaking audiences—mostly online. We already have an agreement with the Vienna University of Applied Arts for a series of public talks and literary events with our authors”

Representatives of Ranok Publishing, based in Kharkiv, which was heavily shelled by the Russian army, told Chytomo, “Our team came to an agreement with a Polish printing house to publish our books for Ukrainian refugees. They are distributed free of charge to children who are currently in Poland. The same will soon be done in the Czech Republic.”

Some physical bookstores in Ukrainian cities, mostly in the west of the country, told Chytomo they were resuming operations. Staryi Lev Publishing House Bookstores and Cafés were operating in Lviv, but not in Kyiv, Odesa, or Dnipro. KSD Bookclub’s stores were also open.

Among publishers surveyed, 55% did not move, 36% partially relocated within Ukraine, 7% fully relocated within Ukraine, and 2% moved abroad.

Yakaboo publishing house transported a million Ukrainian books from its warehouse in Kyiv into western Ukraine. But several other publishers, including ACCA, IST, and Ïzhak had millions of copies of books marooned in warehouses in Kyiv and Kharkiv. “It is not possible to sell books, as the rented warehouse is currently closed, and there are no employees left in Kyiv,” representatives of the Clio publishing house told Chytomo.

The war has curtailed sales, with 95% of publishers reporting that sales fell dramatically during the first month of the war. Accordingly, 17% of publishers were still paying full wages, 55% were paying reduced wages, and 28% had been unable to pay employees at all.

Seeking support abroad

As for working with international partners, 24.6% of publishers have established cooperation with publishers abroad, 51% plan to do so, and 24.4% say they do not know how to enter the international market. Some of this cooperation has taken the form of support on social media. “From the first days of the full-scale war, we have been communicating with our foreign authors and encouraging them to support Ukraine in their social media,” representatives of the Nash Format reported. “Moreover, author Ryan Holiday donated about $15,000 to Ukraine.” One publisher, Chas Majstriv, opened a branch in Krakow, Poland. Rodovid Publishing House is working with colleagues in Canada.

Among recent deals for Ukrainian titles, Larysa Denysenko’s Maya and Her Mothers will be published by Britain’s Bonnier Books, and the proceeds will be donated to UNICEF to support Ukrainian children. British publisher Pushkin Press will release Designland, or a Walk in the Zone by Markian Kamysh; Poland’s Wydawnictwo KEW will publish Daughter by Tamara Gorikha Zernia; and Romany Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv’s The War That Changed Rondo will be issued by three international houses.

Also, the team of Ranok Publishing House—with the support of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, the Ukrainian Institute of Education Content Modernization, and partners from the European Educational Publishing Group—has been actively working to make Ukrainian textbooks available free of charge to all students in Europe.

Lending a hand at home

Among publishers surveyed, 86.6% have employees who volunteered for humanitarian efforts, and 30.5% have employees serving in combat roles. “Since the beginning of the war, we have established a headquarters with our authors to coordinate the settlement of temporarily displaced artists in Bukovyna and Zakarpattia,” Meridian Czernowitz’s Lopata told Chytomo. “Every day we welcome people from other cities of Ukraine, mostly the Kharkiv and Kyiv regions. The families of our team members help to transport humanitarian aid from Romania to Chernivtsi, where it is sorted and transferred to Ukraine.” Other publishers are helping to raise funds for those displaced and to assist with logistical efforts.

Several employees of Ukrainian publishers have gone missing or were killed. “Unfortunately, we do not have information about many of our authors who are now in Mariupol,” said representatives from Bukrek publishing house. “They have not been in touch since March 2, and they are not on the evacuees lists.”

Among those who died as a result of the war are Mykola Kravchenko, founder of the publisher Orientir, who was killed by shelling on March 14. Historian and publicist Serhiy “Deimos” Zaikovsky, one of the Plomin publishing house’s translators, was killed during a counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army. Dmitry Yevdokymov, one of the authors of On Rights and Responsibilities: Your Handbook of Citizenship, and author Yuri Ruf, whose books were published by the Zalizny Tato, have also been killed.

Keeping culture alive

IST has released three new titles since the start of the war, and the publishing houses Anetta Antonenko, Knygolav, and Folio started selling books online. Others are offering free access to select books.

Most publishers told Chytomo that Ukraine’s government actions should focus on presenting Ukrainian culture abroad, to help build a positive image of the country. In addition, publishers said they would like the government to help the industry through cultural grants, tax benefits, and with assistance in promoting the sale of foreign rights.

Some publishers said they’ve put their hope in European institutions, such as the International Renaissance Foundation and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Others suggested reaching out to other international organizations that could distribute books abroad.

“We can’t lose these spheres and people, because it is vitally important to be a cultural nation,” representatives from the publisher Zhorzh told Chytomo. “Book publishing will not resurrect itself; help and investments are needed.”

One form of foreign support for Ukrainian publishers is the distribution of books to Ukrainian refugees and émigrés abroad: “The purchases of books for temporarily displaced persons and Ukrainians abroad will allow the book publishing industry to somehow stay afloat,” said representatives from the Bukrek publishing house.

Investing in e-books and libraries

The survey also found a consensus to support e-books and other innovations in order to provide Ukrainians with access to books in their native language, wherever they are. Representatives from Nebo BookLab Publishing told Chytomo, “Enrichment of the publishing portfolio with e-books so that Ukrainians who have moved can read is also an option. We should communicate through bloggers, etc., that the publishing house is still operating and encourage people to buy books.”

Anastasia Gulko, print manager at Laurus, said, “Now that it’s clear that we need to keep going, we’ve focused on creating e-books. We have been planning on that for a long time, but something kept bothering us, until there were no alternatives left. We have found partners through which we will be able to distribute e-books abroad, in particular in Poland. Besides, we continue what we started before the war—that is, our electronic archives systematization and paper books publishing. There are a few projects that only need to wait for the victory to be issued. So we are waiting.”

Another area of agreement was the importance of the government in promoting library purchases, especially in those regions affected by the invasion, and children’s books. “To direct funds to cover the costs of translation and printing, to support the program of library funds replenishment, into which school libraries could be also included, especially in those areas where Ukrainians were forced to relocate after a large-scale invasion—these are steps, that need to be taken,” said representatives from Kalamar.

Of course, nearly all those in the Ukrainian publishing community asserted that the world must continue to boycott Russian businesses, ban them from participating in public events, and ban the sale of foreign rights to Russian books.

Representatives from Komubuk told Chytomo, “Defeat the enemy! Close all the paths for Russian literature. Stop the activities of all Russian publishing houses, subsidiaries, and booksellers. This is the way we move together toward our common victory.”

A version of this article appeared in the 05/30/2022 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: The War’s Toll on Ukrainian Publishers

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