The 12th International Book Arsenal Festival was held in Kyiv last week, under the theme "Life on the Edge." Just days before the festival's opening, a Russian missile strike on Kharkiv's Factor Druk printing facility killed seven people, injured 22 workers, and destroyed approximately 50,000 books, sending shockwaves through the industry and highlighting the ongoing cultural toll of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

On May 23, Russian missiles targeted the Factor Druk printing plant, one of the largest such plants in Europe and a key player in the Ukrainian publishing industry. The attack rendered one shop of the factory inoperable, with heavy damage throughout the building, forcing the plant to suspend operations pending rescues and an investigation.

The attack's timing was particularly devastating, as many publishers were awaiting final delivery of their lead titles for the upcoming Book Arsenal, which is the country’s primary public-facing book fair. Among the books destroyed was the entire first print run of Words and Bullets, a collection of interviews with Ukrainian writers, including two who have been killed since the book was commissioned. The book was curated by Natalya Korniyenko.

The loss of Factor Druk's operations has already had far-reaching consequences for the Ukrainian publishing industry, creating a bottleneck in the supply chain and compounding the challenges already faced by publishers due to paper shortages and other war-related disruptions. Kharkiv has been a major cultural hub in Ukraine for decades, with more than 80% of all books published in the country being produced in the city before the full-scale invasion.

"We are witnessing the destruction of European values and the demonstration of Russia's true genocidal intent,” said Yuliіa Orlova, CEO of Vivat, one of the country’s major publishers. “Support from all corners of the world is currently vital for us.”

Despite the recent tragedy and the ongoing challenges posed by the war, the 12th International Book Arsenal Festival saw an impressive turnout, attracting 35,000 visitors. The expanded program featured more than 260 participants across 160 events involving upwards of 100 publishers and five bookstores.

"We focused on improving technical aspects, providing additional room facilities, and developing more themes and programs," festival director Yulia Kozlovets told Chytomo last week. “It was an important way to bring the literary community together during difficult times.”

A special stand called “Books Destroyed by Russia” served as a poignant reminder of the impact of the attack on Factor Druk, displaying the charred remains of books that were in the midst of being printed at the plant when it was hit. The exhibit, which smelled of smoke and ashes, featured a broad range of works by Ukrainian writers that included children's books, underscoring the indiscriminate nature of the destruction.

The festival also paid tribute to the many Ukrainian authors who have lost their lives during the ongoing conflict. Among them was Victoria Amelina, who had been remembered at the previous year's festival for her efforts to preserve the work of children's author Volodymyr Vakulenko, killed by Russian forces in 2022. Amelina herself was killed just days after the 2023 Book Arsenal festival.

“Victoria often referenced the ‘Executed Renaissance’ generation; this is yet more evidence that another generation of writers and cultural producers are being systematically targeted and eliminated,” said Emma Shercliff, a U.K.–based literary agent who works with several Ukrainian authors. Among Shercliff’s clients are Artem Chapeye, Mstyslav Chernov, and Oleksandr Mykhed, as well as Amelina’s estate.

The international publishing community has rallied in support of its Ukrainian colleagues, with organizations and individuals offering assistance, solidarity, and a platform for sharing the stories that matter. The festival's fellowship program supported participation by foreign publishers, with some 50 business-to-business meetings held during the Book Arsenal.

“It is so wonderful to see the life of literature and culture here now,” said Jakob Wunderwald, a literary translator from Germany. “Our niche discussion about translation was attended by dozens of people—far more than would be the case at other international festivals."

As the Ukrainian publishing industry grapples with the aftermath of the Factor-Druk attack and the ongoing challenges posed by the war, Book Arsenal affirmed the importance of book-related events to the public. It also served as a strong reminder that the Ukrainian literary world continues to persevere, united in its resolve to preserve and promote the country's rich cultural heritage. As Ukrainian paramedic Iryna Venzhyk told Chytomo: “When I return and see the city alive, investing in culture and what truly matters, it's very inspiring."