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Ukraine in the spotlight at Frankfurt Book Fair

Christine Lehnen | Sabine Kieselbach
October 20, 2022

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called on authors to document the terror unleashed by Russia's invasion. DW talked to authors at the publishing event.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video address at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video address at the Frankfurt Book FairImage: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

Liliia Shutiak publishes children's books on "difficult subjects": death, diversity, the difficulties of navigating a failing public infrastructure. Her publishing company, The Black Sheep, was founded in 2015 in Chernivtsi, a city in Western Ukraine only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Romanian border.

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

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

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

Making books in wartime

Printing books became a real challenge after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Shutiak tells the DW, because many printing works were based in Kharkiv, the eastern Ukrainian city relentlessly shelled by the Russian army.

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

Book presentation.
Ukrainian books on show at Frankfurt's publishing eventImage: Marina Baranovska/DW

Waning international attention

There had initially been great international interest in Ukrainian literature, according to Shutiak, but she feels it is already waning, and the eyes of the world are turning elsewhere. That is why it is so important, she says, to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and talk to 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 fight for peace and freedom.

Zelenskyy pointed out that "there are still plenty of public figures in Europe who are encouraging the 'understanding' of Russia," as well as tolerating terrorist policies by states like Iran.

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

Ignorant people are easier to manipulate, he said, adding that it is all the more important that people are informed "about the terror that Russia has brought to Ukraine."

"Knowledge is the answer," he went on. "Books, documentary scripts, articles, reports — these are the answers."

Zelenskyy called on authors and the book industry to write, publish and distribute books "about those who weaken Europe."

People sitting in rows of chairs with sign 'Stand with Ukraine' on them.
'Stand with Ukraine': The audience at Zelenskyy's addressImage: Sabine Kieselbach/DW

For Zelenskyy, Russia and Iran no longer export culture, but "only death."

"They are less present in the culture sphere and at the same time more present where everything is destroyed," the Ukrainian president said, referring to the Iran-made drones that Russia used in recent attacks on Ukraine.

Both Russia and Iran are not officially represented at the book fair this year.

The audience in the packed exhibition hall responded to his speech with a standing ovation.

How the European book industry can help

Following the president's pre-recorded Ukrainian-language broadcast, Oleksandr Afonin, President of the Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association, took the podium in Frankfurt.

He urged the creation of a culture fund to finance translations from and into Ukrainian. The money could also facilitate acquisitions for Ukrainian libraries and support Ukrainian publishers suffering from the Russian 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 publishing houses, saying not a single one has condemned the war or expressed support for Ukraine. 

Strong Ukrainian representation at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Even though Spain is the official guest of honor this year at the book fair, Ukrainian publishers and literary institutions are in the spotlight at the world's largest publishing event.

Forty-six Ukrainian publishers are presenting their catalog, and many authors will be contributing to the fair's discussions and events.

"What we need are heavy weapons and good books," Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych told DW right after his president's video address at a publishing event.

Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych smiles.
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. In turn, he has translated many classics into Ukrainian, among them Shakespeare and Rilke. For his efforts to advance relations between Ukraine and the European Union, he has been awarded several prestigious prizes in Germany, including the Goethe Medal and the Hannah Arendt Prize.

In addition to Andrukhovych, several other renowned Ukrainian personalities will appear at the fair, which runs until October 23.

Most prominently, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, who was recently featured on the cover of Vogue magazine, will come to Frankfurt in person on October 22. She will take part in a discussion with Brigitte Huber, the editor-in-chief of German women's magazine Brigitte, about mental health and psychological assistance for war survivors.


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