Wartime Books: Four Ukrainian Publishers on Working in Extraordinary Conditions
When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, publishers in the Ukrainian book industry had to change the way they work. Some publishers, like Komora, have started selling e-books for the first time. Art publisher Rodovid Press has created a free PDF version of the book Nash Herb (Our Coat of Arms), a study of the history and visual presentation of the Ukrainian coat of arms, available on their website.
The Ukraїner team continued its production of travel videos, with a new emphasis on unoccupied regions. Poet Serhiy Zhadan, a resident of Kharkiv, used the funds raised from his performances to purchase vehicles for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. He also gave poetry readings with Marjana Savka, the founder of The publishing house of the Old Lion in Lviv, to raise funds. Book Arsenal, an annual literary festival held in May in Kyiv, has been canceled for 2022.
Q&Q recently spoke with four Ukrainian editors via email about how they had to adapt to continue their work during the large-scale war.
Kostiantyn Kozhemiaka founded ArtHuss in 2016 to publish art and design books for the Ukrainian market. The publisher, originally under the same umbrella as the printing company of the same name (Huss), is now a separate entity, with Huss still printing books for ArtHuss. In 2020 ArtHuss published Alisa Lozhkina Permanent revolution: art in Ukraine, from the 20th to the beginning of the 21st century, an in-depth examination of the development of visual arts practices in Ukraine. ArtHuss has an office in Kyiv and staff work from home or from bomb shelters during air raid scares. The speed of workflow and book distribution has slowed. Post office visits put team members at risk and are therefore scheduled less frequently.
Valeria Pinchuk, Public Relations Manager
Right now we publish titles for the creative industries, including Ukrainian translations of The art of color by Johannes Itten and 1000 years of joys and sorrows by Ai Weiwei. We are slowly returning to pre-war operations, but the first weeks of the war were a shock. We stopped working for a month because we had to rethink our next steps. Our books are also part of our fight; they support our readers in their professional development and in understanding the power of Ukrainian art.
Before and during COVID-19, we have implemented successful remote work processes for each team member. We are experiencing some paper delivery issues for our printing press, but we continue to work with our trusted partners to maintain a high standard of book quality. Our process slowed down to some extent during the war, but it is still stable and reliable. Some members of our team have been drafted to serve in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and others serve as volunteers. We support their decisions, think of them and believe in our victory.
Komora publishing house
Komora Publishing House was founded in 2013 in partnership with Komora, a Ukrainian-British distributor of musical equipment for the Ukrainian market. So far, Komora’s office and warehouse in Kyiv have not been damaged, but access to the warehouse has been blocked for some time, preventing the publisher from shipping books and not knowing not when he might resume distribution.
Alla Kostovs’ka, editor-in-chief
We are a small publishing house and we publish 10 to 12 books a year. Our plan this year was to release eight books for the Book Arsenal festival. Each book was supposed to have an event of its own [at the book fair], but we were forced to stop all work and suspend most of our projects. In March and April, we maintained basic work processes to keep the publishing house alive. However, we didn’t have access to our warehouse, so we couldn’t ship stock to bookstores, and we also suspended our online store. The project team and experts were scattered in different cities and countries. In May, some of our team members who were based in Kyiv were able to partially resume selling and shipping books; they renewed contacts with partner bookstore chains. Komora hadn’t published any ebooks at all, but since many Ukrainians are now abroad and don’t have easy access to Ukrainian books, we recently started selling ebooks through the online bookstore Yakaboo. We have also started reviving our book projects one by one, even though they are now being published later than expected.
In July, we received from the printer copies of the first book published since the beginning of the Russian invasion: by Carmen Laforêt Nope, translated into Ukrainian by Anna Vovchenko. This is our first work translated from Spanish and Carmen Laforet’s first publication in Ukraine. In August we published The eighth life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili, translated from German by Roksoliana Sviato. This is a monumental novel (over 1,000 pages) that took two years to publish. Despite the increased cost of paper and printing for a book of this size, we have decided to continue because we believe this book should exist – this is another illustration of the long-standing aggressive expansionist ambitions of the Russia, in this case towards Georgia.
We plan to publish Hitler’s Money by Radka Denemarková (translated from Czech by Iryna Zabiiyaka) and the last essay by Oksana Zabuzhko The longest trip on the preconditions for the current war in the context of the last 30 to 300 years. The rights to this book have already been acquired by several publishers abroad.
In August we were able to start shipping books once or twice a week, and we are grateful to our printer, Globus in Kharkiv, for continuing to work despite the almost daily bombardment of that city.
The Ukrainian project
The team of Ukraїner left his offices in Kyiv on February 24 and moved hard drives containing years of footage to a safe place.
Yevheniia Sapozhnykova, editor-in-chief
Anastasiia Marushevska, Communications Manager
Ukraїner began as a small volunteer community of individuals eager to explore and document Ukraine in order to show it both to fellow Ukrainians and to the rest of the world. Since 2016, the team has been leading expeditions all over the country. We collected people’s stories and shot terabytes of photo and video material.
Today, we have more than 600 volunteers who work as a team. On February 24, the first day of the full-scale war against Ukraine, we started broadcasting programs about the war and how Ukraine is overcoming the disasters caused by the occupying forces. Stories about our resilience – told in different languages, across different platforms – have become one of the most vital priorities. We collect the stories of evacuees, document humanitarian and military initiatives, record interviews with activists and demystify Russian propaganda.
We have published four books, including one in English: Who we are: Indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine (2021); Ukraine from above (2022)drone photographs of Ukraine taken over the years of our expeditions; Ukrainian: Ukrainian Insider (published in English in 2019, with QR codes to access our video materials); and Ukrainian. Ukrainian Insider ІІ (2022).
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukraїner documents the regional resistance of the Ukrainians and the consequences of the Russian occupation in the special project “Deoccupation”.
Creative Women’s Editions
Creative Women Publishing was founded by a group of women in 2018 to encourage women’s participation in creative spaces. In March, the core team was dispersed and only two of the co-founders still live in Ukraine.
Slava Svitova, Founder and Executive Director
One of our mandates is to work with new writers. We are currently preparing two books for publication: In the forest of glass, a collection of 13 fantastic feminist short stories, and What he is silent about, an anthology of 50 men’s stories about fragility, vulnerability, pain, joy and the right to be heard. They are personal stories that challenge the myth of the “real man” and avoid the pathos of a success story; we have now updated it with the stories of men who have been to war. What he is silent about is a companion to our previous title What she is silent about, which dealt with the experiences of women often considered taboo in Ukrainian society. These two books were born from the desire for a dialogue between men and women in our society.
During the war, our mission is to publish books that promote the visibility of women in Ukrainian society. We’ve published books on menstruation, women activists, motherhood, experiences of illness or loss, setting personal boundaries, as well as career guides, writing guides for beginning writers, and more.
It is difficult to work under force majeure conditions, when it is only possible to plan a month in advance, at best. The team is dispersed at the moment and we are working remotely from England, Belgium, Poland and Germany. Paper prices and supplier rates have increased. At the same time, we see various growth opportunities for the translation of our books and for the acquisition of rights.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
Tanya Mykhaylychenko writes and edits in Montreal.