Column | You have to do what you do best: just a moment after the war started, books were being made again in Ukraine

A group of Ukrainian publishers – all women, by chance – arrived in Helsinki to agree on joint projects. The war paralyzed Ukrainian publishing houses for only a few weeks

Central library Ood’s roof rises beautifully like a protective sky. Here, airplanes are children’s toys.

Six guests have arrived under the roof from a country where you have to be afraid of airplanes and the sky. All women, by chance.

They are here because the best help is shared projects, in this case books. They would have other significant voices at their disposal than the ones who have reached the translation of two novels Andrei Kurkov. Finland, on the other hand, is interesting because of its history of survival.

However, in February 2022, it seemed that reading and buying books are the last thing anyone has the guts to do, the Ukrainian publishers at the meeting say. The Russian invasion put an end to their work. All that remained was taking care of loved ones and giving all possible support to the army.

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The Old Lion -publishing house Be Besarab talks about the “enormous shock” and colleagues who went to the front. And about how after only a few weeks on the home front, we realized that “we have to do what we do best, our own work”.

In addition to the unpredictable sky, many other changes in everyday life have “slowed down the work by at least half”, such as the Ist publishing house Anastasia Leonova characterizes. During a power outage, no corrections are made on the screen.

Ukraine’s book center is not the capital Kyiv, but Kharkiv, near the Russian border, where most of the printing houses are also located. The large Vivat publishing house Natalia Miroshnyk has managed to travel to Helsinki from there. According to him, after the initial “freeze” already in August 2022, Vivat reached its pre-war activity level, “because people decided not to buy Russian books anymore”.

One mentions I believe that I tuned into the continuity already two weeks after the Russian invasion, when a soldier from the front ordered books by mail. However, it is said that he was not allowed to call, so that his cell phone would not reveal his location to the enemy.

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The other thought the press was destroyed, but I got a call from Harkov that the novelty would be completed. In other words: “Our book is alive”.

As the tears escape and the voice chokes, the third continues.

Books are needed, so people know who they are. Since a refugee cannot pack them in his backpack, the importance of e- and audio books has reached a new level.

“The book is like an island from its own country,” characterizes Nataliia Miroshnyk.

Or the Ukrainian Book Institute Olena Odynokan like: “For a child, a book is not a story but a protection from a cruel world.”

I smelled the third in the book-safe heaven on the first floor, one can only admire the determination, vigor and strength of the strangers who fell under the war.

“We may seem fearless, but we’re not”, Olena Odynoka points out.

He refers to his favorite author by Neil Gaiman to the idea: fearlessness means that you only do what you like and what you can do, even if it scares you.

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All of them announce that they will urgently continue exactly that, their work, when they can get back through whatever difficulties, no matter where. Except for the Vikhola publishing house Iryna Shchepina:

“At least I throw myself on my back in bed first, and I don’t do anything for a while.”

The Ukrainian publishers were in Helsinki as guests of the Literature Export Center (FILI).

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