It’s now been more than a year since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, killing hundreds of thousands, sending millions into exile, and throwing the country’s publishing industry into disarray. The number of titles published in Ukraine was cut almost in half last year, dropping from 17,000 in 2021 to just under 9,000, according to the Ukrainian Book Institute (UBI), which collects data on the industry.
The war has been especially difficult on the printing sector, which is centered in Kharkiv and had a significant amount of infrastructure destroyed. As a result, the total number of books printed in Ukraine fell from 25.7 million in 2021 to 9.2 million in 2022. Ukrainian printers and publishers are also dealing with the same supply chain issues that their counterparts around the world face, with paper in particular being in short supply. “Ukraine would import 60,000 tons of paper in a typical year, however in 2022, the industry only received 20,000 tons,” said Yulia Orlova, CEO of Vivat Publishing in Kharkiv, the second-largest publisher in the country.
Despite the many disruptions, Ukrainian publishers have been able to continue their work. Vivat, for example, shut down when the war started, as many of its staff of 100 were forced to relocate and work remotely. After shipping 20 truckloads of books to western Ukraine, it began fulfilling book orders in April. In June, it resumed publishing new titles, releasing 350 last year—a small drop from the nearly 400 published in 2021. In addition, Vivat opened a new bookstore in Kyiv in October.
Since the start of the war, many companies moved some of their staff overseas, and several figures from the industry have been promoting the cause of Ukrainian publishing abroad. Among those most active on the international scene has been Yulia Kozlovets, director of the Book Arsenal, the largest literary festival in Ukraine, which is typically held in Kyiv in spring. Kozlovets attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair earlier this month. During a reception, she thanked the international community for its support and said she hopes that the publishing world will not “lose interest” in Ukraine as the war drags on. She also hopes that Ukraine will be able to hold the Book Arsenal later this year, provided the fighting isn’t too heavy or too close to Kyiv.
Throughout 2022, foreign publishers were eager to show their support for Ukraine, while also providing information about Ukraine to their readers, by buying rights to Ukrainian books. According to UBI, the number of rights sales for Ukrainian books nearly doubled last year, from 120 in 2021 to 230.
The Old Lion Publishing House, a children’s press in Lviv, signed 67 deals—more than any other Ukrainian publisher—including 11 for its bestselling How the War Changed Rondo by Romana Romanyshyn, illustrated by Andriy Lesiv. Old Lion was also honored as Best Children’s Book Publisher of the Year for Europe at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Ranok, Ukraine’s largest publishing house, made 52 foreign rights sales, followed by Vivat with 40. The author with the most interest abroad was Serhiy Zhadan, a well-regarded poet and performer, whose books generated 140 deals.
In the two years prior to the war, the Translate Ukraine program, run by UBI, offered €300,000 to support the translation of Ukrainian works, resulting in 113 books published in 24 countries. The program was halted when the war started, but UBI announced that it will restart soon, with the aim of supporting the translation of 50 more books.
For the foreseeable future, the focus of most Ukrainian publishers is finding ways to cope with fundamental problems, like how to keep the lights and heat on following Russian air strikes. At Old Lion, employees rely on generators. The Vivat office in Kharkiv has turned into what has become known as a “point of invincibility,” with a generator and a Starlink connection to provide employees with light, heat, and internet.
Ultimately, only an end to the war will offer Ukraine’s publishing industry a return to anything like normalcy. “We must never forget that there’s a war going on,” Kozlovets said. “And we’re fighting for our lives.”