Ukraine in the spotlight at Frankfurt Book Fair – DW – 10/20/2022

Liliia Shutiak publishes children’s books on “difficult subjects”: death, diversity, the difficulties of navigating a failing public infrastructure. Her publishing house The Black Sheep was founded in 2015 in Chernivtsi, a city in western Ukraine just 40 kilometers from the Romanian border.

According to Amnesty International, many Ukrainians have fled to Chernivtsi since the outbreak of war in February 2022.

Black Sheep’s five employees immediately got involved in providing humanitarian aid to their fellow Ukrainians.

The publisher has now donated over 15,000 books to Ukrainian children, including those who have gone abroad.

Making books in wartime

Printing books has become a real challenge after the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine, Shutiak tells DW, because many printers are based in Kharkiv, the eastern Ukrainian city under relentless fire from the Russian army.

Fortunately, Shutiak reports, Black Sheep can now print books in Kharkiv again, and Ukrainians continue to buy books even in the midst of the war.

Book presentation.
Ukrainian books at the Frankfurt publishing fairImage: Marina Baranovska/DW

Declining international attention

According to Shutiak, international interest in Ukrainian literature initially had a lot of international interest, but she feels that it is already waning and the eyes of the world are turning elsewhere. That’s why it’s so important, she says, to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair and to exchange ideas with international colleagues.

In a video address at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 20, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited authors and publishers to come to Ukraine and write about the situation in his war-torn country. He emphasized the importance of information and knowledge in the struggle for peace and freedom.

Zelenskyy pointed out that “there are still many public figures in Europe who promote ‘understanding’ of Russia” and tolerate the terrorist policies of states like Iran.

“How can this happen?” he asked. “The only answer is a lack of knowledge.”

The ignorant are easier to manipulate, he said. It is all the more important that people are “informed about the terror that Russia has brought to Ukraine.”

“Knowledge is the answer,” he continued. “Books, documentary screenplays, articles, reports – these are the answers.”

Zelenskyj called on authors and the book industry to write, publish and distribute books “about those who weaken Europe”.

People sit in rows of chairs with the sign
“Rise with Ukraine”: The audience at Zelenskyj’s speechImage: Sabine Kieselbach/DW

For Selenskyj, Russia and Iran no longer export culture, but “only death”.

“They are less present in the cultural sphere and at the same time more present where everything is being destroyed,” said the Ukrainian president, referring to the Iranian-made drones that Russia has used in recent attacks on Ukraine.

Neither Russia nor Iran are officially represented at the book fair this year.

The audience in the packed exhibition hall acknowledged his speech with standing ovations.

How the European book industry can help

After the President’s recorded Ukrainian-language broadcast, Oleksandr Afonin, President of the Association of Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers, took the podium in Frankfurt.

He called for the establishment of a cultural fund to finance translations from and into Ukrainian. The money could also facilitate purchases for Ukrainian libraries and support Ukrainian publishing houses suffering from Russia’s war of aggression, he said.

Afonin suggested the German Publishers and Booksellers Association and the European Publishers Association as possible founders of such a fund.

The Ukrainian publisher and writer also criticized Russian publishers, saying none had condemned the war or expressed support for Ukraine.

Strong Ukrainian representation at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Although Spain is the official Guest of Honor at the Book Fair this year, Ukrainian publishers and literary institutions are in the spotlight at the world’s largest publishing event.

46 Ukrainian publishers will present their catalogue, and many authors will contribute to the fair’s discussions and events.

“What we need are heavy weapons and good books,” Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych told DW immediately after his president’s video address at a publishing event.

Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych smiles.
The Ukrainian author Yuri AndrukhovychImage: Sabine Gudath/IMAGO

Andrukhovych is one of the most important representatives of Ukrainian literature. His novels, including The Moscoviad, Perversion and Recreations, have been widely translated. He, in turn, translated many classics into Ukrainian, including Shakespeare and Rilke. For his efforts in promoting relations between Ukraine and the European Union, he was awarded several prestigious prizes in Germany, including the Goethe Medal and the Hannah Arendt Prize.

In addition to Andrukhovych, several other well-known Ukrainian personalities will perform at the fair, which lasts until October 23.

On October 22, the Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, who recently appeared on the cover of Vogue, will be coming to Frankfurt in person. She will take part in a conversation with Brigitte Huber, the editor-in-chief of the German women’s magazine Brigitte, about mental health and psychological help for war survivors.

This article was originally written in German. It was updated with the story of Liliia Shutiak’s publishing work after its initial publication.

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