The Ukrainian Book Institute, now with the support of the Federation of European Publishers and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, has reiterated its request for help from the global publishing community to raise money to publish and distribute Ukrainian-language books for the several million refugees who have fled Ukraine after Russia’s invasion nearly a month ago. Donations can be made online.
The call for action came as part of an improvised panel discussion during the book fair on Tuesday morning, one that featured Anne Bergman of the Federation of European Publishers; Jacks Thomas, guest director of the Bologna Book Plus program; Yulia Laktionova, publisher of Yakaboo, a publishing house in Kyiv; Elena Pasoli, Bologna Children’s Book Fair director; and Natalia Mospan of My Bookshelf, a publishing house and bookstore in Kyiv.
As part of the presentation, Mospan showed her recently published book, The War: The Children Who Will Never Get to Read Books, written by Masha Serdiuk and illustrated by Tetyanan Kalyuzhna. The large format, nonfiction children’s book was published in just nine days and depicts the war and documents the deaths of numerous children, including infants. “Our hope is that this book will help people understand very clearly the impact of this war on Ukrainian families,” Mospan told PW.
Mospan fled to Croatia, from which she was able to organize the printing and publication of the books. Laktionova left Kyiv and after three days, was able to escape to Poland, and described how a friendship with Jacks Thomas encouraged her to make the trip to Bologna. “I was communicating with Jacks and realized how important my presence would be to helping tell the story of what has happened in Ukraine.”
Mospan is already in discussions with Hewlett-Packard, which may assist with future print runs of the book financed through its foundation. HP, which has a booth in Bologna to display its printing technology, is already working with Old Lion Publishing in Ukraine and Enchanted Lion Books in the U.S. to print 10,000 copies of How the War Changed Rondo by Ukrainian husband-and-wife author-illustrator team Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, and help distribute them through the “Packed with Hope” initiative, organized by U.K. publishers Little Toller Books and Bluemoose Books. Under the program, the book will be published in a dual-language Ukrainian/English edition and included in a backpack with other essentials, including numerous other books, to be distributed to Ukrainian refugee children in the coming months.
As noted yesterday in PW, Enchanted Lion Books is donating 100% of the proceeds from online sales of How War Changed Rondo to UNICEF’s Ukraine relief funds. The picture book, released in fall 2021, tells the story of three children whose peaceful life is disrupted by war and ultimately offers a message of peace and hope. The book must be ordered from the publisher’s website (donations are only made for books purchased through the company website).
For her part, Laktionova said she is prioritizing collecting photographs of the war to compile into an anthology she hopes to be able to publish soon. “We cannot believe that there are still people in Russia supporting the war, and people who do not believe it is real, even though we see it with our own eyes,” she said. Yakaboo author Tatiana Kremen has already started work on a graphic novel depiction of the first days of the war, one that shows the before and after from the point of view of an artist who watches the war begin in Kyiv from the vantage of her apartment and the point of view of her pets. Speaking of Kremen, who has not yet fled Kyiv, Laktionova said, “She started off with one dog and four cats and now, because she is taking care of other people’s animals, has four dogs and nine cats.”
Yakaboo has opened up its popular online reading app for phones to more than 50 Ukrainian publishers to upload and offer books. “When the war started, we set it up so that anyone with a Ukrainian phone number can register to use and read all the books on the app for free,” said Laktionova. “The app is being used by 50,000 people a day. And we are also seeing people from outside Ukraine register on the app. It’s only five euros a month for them, but it is a welcome show of support.”
Yakaboo is also one of the largest book distributors in Ukraine with some 250 employees in all. Laktionova described for PW the challenges the company has faced in trying to evacuate nearly a million books from its warehouse in Ukraine, a project that has been thwarted by fuel shortages and Russian bombardment of the city. “We know that we won’t be able to print any books for a long time – Kharkiv, which is destroyed, was the printing center of Ukraine – so we are trying to save as many books as possible.”
Both publishers PW spoke with in Bologna were visibly shaken by the events of the past few weeks. Each described their own harrowing, fortunate journeys out of Ukraine and their anger and sorrow at seeing towns destroyed and countrymen killed.
“We know, with the war happening, that publishing books may not be the highest priority, but focusing on our work, work that we love, gives us something else to think about, it reminds us of our purpose,” said Laktionova. “Perhaps it gives us something even more important – it gives us hope for the future.”