Vivat Publishing was established in 2013 after the merger of the two well-known Ukrainian publishers — Pelican and Argument-Print. Based in Kharkiv, Vivat is the second largest publishing house in Ukraine with approximately 3,000 titles in print. PW interviewed Vivat's CEO, Yulia Orlova, by email about how the company is trying to continue to work, despite its hometown having been under constant bombardment from Russia for the past three weeks and much of the city destroyed.
Are you safe?
You know, during these days of war in Ukraine, such a question, as well as simply asking, “How are you?,” is a expression of genuine love. Any support or care that is shown for us means a great deal and we are grateful to everyone for it. Naturally, talking about safety in the midst of the full-scale war is an arduous task: my colleagues and I are deeply concerned about our own safety and that of our loved ones. We are forced to live in shelters or else are fleeing the regions where there is fighting, but only when that is possible.
Are you able to work?
Truth to be told, working is very difficult. Vivat Publishing has a fairly large structure, with more than 100 staff. Until now, only a few of my colleagues have stayed in Kharkiv, where for three weeks there has been daily, intensive bombing that has destroyed the city. The majority of my co-workers were forced to leave their homes and move to other, comparatively peaceful regions of Ukraine, or flee abroad. It is no surprise that some of them were unable to take any equipment needed for work -- laptops, computers, tablets, etc. Most were leaving hastily and were emotionally overwhelmed. They grabbed only the most necessary documents. Some didn’t have any equipment to work at home at all. Right now, getting access to a high-speed Internet connection is very difficult, work servers are operating only intermittently, in a situation where almost everyone is forced to work remotely, in harsh conditions, in other cities or even countries, it is a significant challenge. But we are trying.
Some publishers have tried to move operations to Poland and further afield. Do you intend to publish books abroad?
So far, we are actively building partnerships with Polish publishers. As for the future, we are eager to collaborate with the broadest possible number of foreign publishers, those have the interest in publishing books from Ukrainian authors. This is for adult titles and, especially, children’s books. And those who know our work, know that we produce professionally designed books of the highest European quality. We are anxious to start a large-scale collaboration and would like to sell even more foreign rights to our books. Small print runs are fine, as we are eager to work with publishers abroad.
Why do we emphasize buying and selling rights, and not simply offer them for free to spread our message? Well, we have existing contracts with illustrators, authors, and editors and are obliged to fulfill them. In addition, this allows us the opportunity to stay in business and provide everyone with income. That said, we are open to discussing discrete, short print runs of our books in the Ukrainian language in those countries which have accepted a large number of refugees. In this case, we are ready to provide original mock-ups of the books without payment.
Are you able to sell e-books, for example, to fill the gap in production and distribution?
At the start of the war we opened access to all of our books, both for adults and children, free of charge. We know that, today, only some people can afford to buy books. However, this must not hinder opportunities for Ukrainians to read. So free access to Vivat books is our moral responsibility. It is our way to support, as much as possible, all Ukrainians who are hiding in basements or bomb shelters. The program has been received positively and we have encouraged readers who are able to donate any money they have in their ePidtrymka accounts to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. For those who don’t know, The ePidtrymka account is a government program that offered 1,000 hryvnia -- $35 -- as an incentive to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The money could be spent on a range of goods, but the biggest beneficiary of the program was bookstores, with 30% of Ukrainians using the money to buy books and it generated, as of the end of 2021, nearly a billion hryvnia in sales ($35 million). Now, with the outbreak of the full-scale war, citizens of Ukraine are entitled to send these funds to support the army. So, we believe that our initiative may be considered as our contribution to future victory, even now.
It must be noted that the free e-books are only available to those in Ukraine. Under our contracts, we cannot distribute books freely abroad. Even in these difficult times, we are putting a lot of effort into maintaining our legal agreements and maintaining good relationships with our business partners.
Could you share your opinion on how publishing and your company can foster the fight against Putin?
Since 2014, our publishing plan has included many distinctive books that shed a light on current events. They include Putinocracy: The Man of Power and Its System by Boris Reitshuster and Putin's Wars: The Rise of Russia's New Imperialism by Marcel H. Van Hebpen. We are already negotiating to prolong the foreign rights and to reprint these books. Today, these books are more relevant than ever.
Additionally, we are working with American publishers and journalists to showcase a few of our most highly relevant titles focusing on current events. Our list features several books by Sergiy Korsunsky, the ambassador for Ukraine to Japan, which include How to Build Partnerships with Asian Countries and Foreign Policy in Times of Transformations: How Not to Be Life on the Sidelines of History. Korsunsky is working actively with Japanese diplomats to acquire support for Ukraine from Japan and we are beginning to see the fruits of his efforts.
At least three of our Ukrainian authors are defending our country against the enemy, including the historian and writer Vakhtang Kipiani, who is the bestselling author of The Case of Vasyl Stus. But most our authors and workers are dedicated volunteers doing their best for the day of victory.
I guess the main goal of all Ukrainian publishers today is to help inform readers about those geopolitical processes we are witnessing every day. Without a doubt, we are going to observe tectonic shifts. So, the major task of the publishing industry is to present to the society substantive, potent up-to-date information in books. All of our efforts are being directed to help readers and the citizens of Ukraine to make sense of the events happening to them, to help them avoid becoming a victim of Russia’s hostile propaganda and the fake news, which has flooded our country.
How can the international publishing community assist you?
We are very open to working with anyone who wants to help us abroad. In particularly, we would like to ask the International Publishers Association for support. It is a global political moment. We plead that the IPA and the president of IPA publicly condemn the Russian aggression.
We also ask that the Ukrainian Publishers Association's (UPA) appeal to the head officers of the international exhibitions and book fairs to ban the participation of the Russian state stand, and even the participation of Russian publishers at the international forums. We ask this because we believe it is unfair that Ukrainian publishers are forced to abandon their work due to Russian aggression – and are forced to protect their country while Russian publishers will use the opportunity to attend book fairs and international forums and fellowships. These days, we feel it is impossible to separate Putin's actions from the silence of ordinary citizens of Russia.
Ultimately, purchasing translation and publication rights to the titles of Ukrainian authors will become the real support of Ukrainian publishing. We can be further encouraged by publishers abroad understating our situation and offering us rights in line with our ability to pay. And for those who are interested and willing, we can provide free mock-ups for publishers willing to do print runs at their own expense of Ukrainian children’s books for refugees living abroad. Finally, we are looking to a foundation or philanthropy to help in purchasing existing Ukrainian print books and helping to transport them from Ukraine to foreign libraries abroad, for their preservation and to serve communities of Ukrainians living there.
Anything else you would like to add?
I just want to offer our heartfelt thanks to those who are supporting Ukraine in these grueling times. I believe that together, through our work, communication and collaboration, it will help lead Ukraine to victory and further support world democracy and freedom. Anyone who wants to reach us should email email@example.com.