Editor’s note: A year ago today, March 2, Publishing Perspectives ran our first interview with Julia Orlova, CEO of Vivat Publishing, one of Ukraine’s largest houses, based in Kharkiv. In our update with her now, we learn that she and her team are actually planning to expand, not reduce, their output this year.
See also today, a sidebar: The International Association of University Presses Updates Its Ukraine Resources
‘We Got 20 Truckloads of Books Out From Under Shelling’Oyear and one week after Vladimir Putin opened his unprovoked assault on Ukraine, Julia Orlova, Vivat Publishing‘s CEO, echoes the steely resolve of her fellow citizens during the anniversary of the Russian invasion, saying, “We’re proud that despite all the challenges and circumstances, in 2022 we published 350 titles, which is only 12.5-percent less than in the previous year.
“And for 2023, we have ambitious plans to surpass the pre-war figures.”
Ukrainian publishers and booksellers still are forced to take extraordinary means to serve local readers, of course. Vivat’s proximity in Kharkiv to military operations forced the company’s team to evacuate shortly after the war began. But the autumn advance made by Ukraine’s military allowed Vivat to reopen its headquarters. Even so, Orlova says, as much as 80 percent of Vivat’s staff still is working from home.
Orlova tells Publishing Perspectives the war’s outbreak triggered an overhaul of the company’s publishing and distribution processes, as well as a switch to remote work to ensure workforce safety.
“With the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine,” she says, “our team evacuated from Kharkiv almost entirely.
“We managed to get 20 truckloads of books out from under the shelling. To keep them safe, we had to open a warehouse in Rivne” in western Ukraine.
“Since the end of May, we’ve almost completely restored our disrupted business processes. And in early June, we published new books.”
Nevertheless, she says, the workplace challenge is a stubborn one. “It’s difficult to keep more than 100 people together in a business process,” Orlova says, “when you haven’t seen each other for almost a year.
“Some employees quit because they moved abroad. Some of those won’t return to Ukraine. And this is the second biggest problem, not only for Vivat, but also for the Ukrainian book publishing business in general: a temporary shortage of qualified personnel.”
That said, Orlova says Ukrainian readers are demonstrating a strong interest in books, as indicated by the popularity of the new bookstores the publisher opened in Kyiv last year.
“In October, despite the war, we opened a new bookstore in Kyiv. About 1,200 people visited the bookstore on the opening day, which we consider an incredible success and evidence that Ukrainians miss live communication and want to join cultural events, even in the face of danger. We’re planning to open another bookstore in western Ukraine and reopen one more in Kharkiv.
“For these, we’re actively recruiting new employees.”
War-Related Titles in Demand
In a typical peacetime year, Vivat Publishing produces some 400 titles.
Last year, some of the house’s fastest sellers included a Ukrainian translation of The Churchill Factor: How One Man Changed History by the former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, which has sold 13,500 copies.
Among more popular titles, The Case of Vasyl Stus: A Collection of Documents From the Archive of the Former KGB of the Ukrainian SSR by Vakhtang Kipiani has seen 9,600 copies sold. A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success by Maye Musk, has sold 8,300 copies.
And with the ongoing invasion dominating the daily lives of Ukrainians, Orlova says she’s working to release multiple titles related to the war.
“Recently, we published an illustrated edition of Weapons of Victory by Myhailo Zhyrohov,” she says, “about the types of weapons that help us defend our land. We’re preparing now to publish lots of titles about what Ukrainians are going through.”
As next week’s 60th edition of Bologna Children’s Book Fair approaches, Orlova says, “Children’s books about the war are being written” in Ukraine. “Whatever the traumatic situation, it’s important to discuss what’s happening with little Ukrainians. We’re very attentive to such publications, and we consult with child psychologists and industry experts.”
With those young readers in mind, Vivat last year published Gerard the Partisan by Ivan Andrusyak, a book about a guinea pig who defends its village from invaders.
The house also released The Holiday I Had To Take by Kateryna Yehorushkina, a small personal diary of a 10-year-old girl who had to flee the north of the Kyiv region to reach a safer region of Ukraine. The book has been translated and published in Georgia and Lithuania, and publishers from Denmark, Poland, and Sweden have also acquired the rights to release it, Orlova says.
As Ukraine’s struggle against Russia’s onslaught continues to attract world attention and admiration, Vivat’s team is seeing growth in Ukrainian literature overall.
“Of course, we’ve noted increasing interest in everything that concerns Ukraine,” Orlova says.
“Foreign publishers are primarily interested in children’s books, biographies, fiction, and nonfiction that would help people in other countries better understand the history and culture of Ukrainians.”
Last year, the company sold 40 titles’ translation rights to publishers in 14 countries, she says, and bought the Ukrainian rights to some 100 books. What’s more, the publisher’s team was at Frankfurter Buchmesse.
Vivat has sold the foreign rights to:
- Fables by Hryhoriy Skovoroda to Moldova and Romania
- The Unbreakable by Sevgil Musayeva and Alim Aliyev to Germany
- Anyone But Me, But Not Me by Halyna Kruk to Poland
- Wilhelm the Hedgehog by Tanya Stus to Canada
“We’ve received requests from many foreign publishers for the biography of Valeriy Zaluzhnyi,” since July 2021, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“Courageous Ukrainians inspire people from all over the world,” Julia Orlova says. “As a publishing house, we feel a duty to tell the world about our heroes and our incredible country.”
The Federation of European Publishers and the Ukrainian Book Institute are opening a project called Tales of EUkraine during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Trade visitors to the show are invited to an opening event for the effort at 3 p.m. on March 6, the fair’s opening day, at the Bologna Book Plus Theater in Hall 29.
The project is co-funded by Creative Europe and is designed to produce a rights catalogue of more than 100 Ukrainian children’s books available for purchase in various European markets.
With the support of their national associations, publishers can acquire the international translation rights for the books and publish them. Their national publishers’ associations will then acquire a substantial part of the printed copies with the contribution of the Creative Europe funding and will supervise their distribution, relying on a network of NGOs, public institutions, and other entities.
Participating national publishers’ associations include:
- The Italian Publishers’ Association, AIE
- The Polish Chamber of Books, PIK
- The German Publishers and Booksellers Association, the Börsenverein
- The Romanian Publishers’ Association, AER
- The Bulgarian Publishers’ Association, ABK
- The Slovak Chamber of Books, ZVKS
More associations are expected to be added, the project being intended to run until October 2025. More information is available at a site created for the project.
Catch up with all our coverage of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry and players. More from Publishing Perspectives on the Ukrainian market is here, more on the freedom to publish and the freedom of expression is here.
More from Publishing Perspectives on Bologna Children’s Book Fair is here, more on Bologna Book Plus is here, more on rights trading in the international book publishing industry is here, and our Rights Roundup series is here. More on children’s books is here, and more on world publishing’s trade shows and book fairs is here.