Ukrainian publishing industry upended by Russian invasion After the Crimea invasion, a backlash against Russian books filled with propaganda led to the growth of Ukraine's own book industry. But Russia's latest attacks and Covid have created major obstacles.

Russian invasion upends young, flourishing Ukrainian publishing industry

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For years, about half the books published in Ukraine came from Russia and were written in Russian. Ukrainians say those books often portrayed their country in a negative light. In recent years, the Ukrainian government has made it a priority to promote their own writers. And with the war raging, they say that's become more important than ever. Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Like many Ukrainian publishers, Vivat Publishing House is headquartered in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which has been the target of a vicious Russian bombing campaign.

GALINA PADALKO: When the war came, we lose a lot.

ZARROLI: Chief communications officer Galina Padalko says company employees have had to flee the city and work remotely. Padalko's street was bombed, and she's had to return to her hometown in eastern Ukraine.

PADALKO: We are not sure in our future. We are not sure about our ability to work tomorrow because there is no safe place in Ukraine.

ZARROLI: But Padalko remains defiantly optimistic - and not without reason. Before the Crimea invasion eight years ago, Ukraine's book market was dominated by huge Russian companies. There were Ukrainian writers, but they tended to avoid serious subjects, says writer Andrey Kurkov, who spoke at an online forum sponsored by PEN America.

ANDREY KURKOV: Until 2014, Ukrainian literature was not militant. It was actually mostly love stories, sex, drugs and rock and roll, and actually easygoing stories.

ZARROLI: Kurkov says Crimea changed everything. Books about the war proliferated, and many were dark and very political. Crimea also provoked a backlash against Russian books. Iryna Baturevych, who runs a website about Ukrainian books, says some Russian writing amounted to little more than pro-Kremlin propaganda.

IRYNA BATUREVYCH: They wrote that Ukraine is full of Nazis. They wrote that Ukraine is - doesn't deserve to be separate country. It was really horrible.

ZARROLI: In 2016, Ukraine banned certain Russian publishers. Human rights groups condemned the ban as censorship. But with Russian companies sidelined, Ukrainian publishers filled the gap. And within three years, Ukrainian book sales rose by half. Literary agent Emma Shercliff, who has researched the market, says the industry flourished.

EMMA SHERCLIFF: I was just really bowled over with the quality of the work, the high production values, really interesting and quite different fiction and nonfiction. It was just really exciting.

ZARROLI: The recent invasion has upended the industry. Publishers can no longer get their books into stores, and supply chains have been eviscerated.

SHERCLIFF: Really through absolutely no fault of their own, you know, the industry has just been decimated.

ZARROLI: And everywhere, writers have shut down their laptops to take arms against the Russians, says Andrey Kurkov.

KURKOV: There are many writers now who are helping the army or in the army. We now entered completely different life. I mean, the old, relaxed Mediterranean life of Ukraine is over.

ZARROLI: Much of the publishing world is rallying in support of Ukraine. Russian companies have been blacklisted at international book fairs, and writers such as Stephen King say they won't let their books be published in Russia. Galina Padalko believes time is on Ukraine's side.

PADALKO: We have one dream - to return in Kharkiv and continue our work in our hometown. And of course, we all know that we will win. In our books, the good always triumphs over evil.

ZARROLI: Lately, Padalko's company has begun giving away digital copies of Ukrainian books. At a time when Russia continues to churn out propaganda about the war, she says it's more important than ever that Ukrainian voices be heard.

For NPR News, this is Jim Zarroli.


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