War creates hurdles for Ukraine publishers, but upside too

By Kate Millar ,AFP

FRANKFURT – Ukrainian publisher Kateryna Mikhalitsyna proudly showcases “The Maidan’s Tale,” billed as the first attempt to explain the protests in the iconic Kiev square to children through literature. The brightly illustrated tale by writer and artist Khrystyna Lukashchuk came out in early September and is one example of how Ukrainian publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair are grappling with the conflict. Fighting that has claimed nearly 3,400 lives this year rages on in eastern Ukraine between pro-Moscow separatists and a Western-leaning government in Kiev as a ragged one-month-old truce teeters on the verge of collapse. “It’s still difficult in Ukraine because people mostly say ‘death? I don’t want to talk with you about death,’” said Mikhalitsyna, deputy editor-in-chief of The Old Lion Publishing House in Lviv. “But children hear everything on the radio, on TV, via the Internet,” and dialogue about the grim subject is “extremely needed,” she said.

‘Ukrainian spirit evolves’ With the economy sliding after six months of deadly conflict, many people have to make the choice “to buy a book or something to eat,” said Volodymyr Samoylenko, of Kiev-based Nika Centre Publishing House. But the conflict has also produced an upside for publishers of Ukrainian-language books in a national sector where literature is produced and read in both Ukrainian and Russian, publishers said. Russian has historically been the second language in Ukraine, a country linguistically split into the Ukrainian-speaking west and Russian-speaking east, where pro-Moscow separatists have claimed “independence” in two regions. “People in the Russian-speaking eastern region, because of the conflict, (have) become highly interested in Ukrainian”-language books, Mikhalitsyna, whose company mostly specializes in children’s literature, said. “Their Ukrainian national spirit evolves.” Levgen Krasovytskyi, of Folio in the eastern city of Kharkiv which publishes 400-500 titles a year, mostly in Russian, also said there had been bigger demand for quality Ukrainian-language children’s books. “Why is that?” he said. “Because people want their children to be Ukrainian speaking in the future.” About 80 percent of Ukraine’s book market — excluding scientific and school books — are Russian imports and still find their way into the country despite the fighting but have become more pricey, he said.