Text by Agne Dovydaityte
Edited by Darya Malyutina
The BBC’s new historical drama War and Peace seems to have started a trend in the UK, exemplified by bohemian-style discussions about world literary classics coming from Eastern Europe. While western audiences wipe the dust from books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gogol on their bookshelves, publishers in the East are struggling to attract new readers, and to change the nature of publishing business, trying to make reading a more attractive practice. At the frontline of these changing patterns appears to be the oldest Ukrainian publishing house ‘Osnovy’ that has been introducing innovative solutions to the Ukrainian book market. Besides, the ongoing conflict in the East of the country has inevitably influenced the content of books, and has encouraged ‘Osnovy’ to prove that it is possible to make business in Ukraine while standing against serious problems, including not only military aggression, but also internal corruption and bribery culture.
‘Osnovy’ proves that it is possible to make business in Ukraine while standing against serious problems, including not only military aggression, but also internal corruption and bribery culture.
Dana Pavlychko, director of ‘Osnovy’, came to the Ukrainian Institute in London to talk about the publishing house’s endeavours to make Ukrainians read more and promote the image of Ukraine as an ‘awesome’ country. Pavlychko addressed several problems that publishing and any creative business is facing in Ukraine at the moment. From limited development of book distribution networks, to dealing with the implications of the ongoing war and economic crisis, it is just the book enthusiasts and publishing companies themselves that are currently actually making effort to increase the reading rates in the country.
Despite this unfortunate situation, ‘Osnovy’ is feeling comfortable in the market, since they are able to compete with big publishers by working hard with the content, exceptional design of books and developing collaboration with authors themselves. Although most of their books are published in Ukrainian, ‘Osnovy’ also produces some Russian titles, and has recently released English-language books Awesome Ukraine and Awesome Kyiv, which, as they say, present Ukraine as an innovative and dynamic country, by capturing its history with numerous illustrations and humour.
‘Ukraine is not only mountains, varenyky (traditional dumplings), and Cossacks riding through fields. No one really cares [about this image] – it is not interesting,’ Pavlychko said.
Awesome Ukraine has become a very successful project; recently, is has also been made into an app that tourists in Ukraine are more than willing to use.
As well, since the war broke out, ‘Osnovy’ has introduced some new and relevant content, such as photo albums about Euromaidan and book about journalism at war. Speaking about the former, Pavlychko pointed out that as publishers, they got the images from both Russian and Ukrainian photographers, in order to show that war is awful at both sides of the frontline. At the same time, more controversial topics made publishers to double the amount of work. ’I want Ukrainian books and Ukrainian products to be way more awesome and way more interesting, because only by making these changes we will survive and win the war.’
’I want Ukrainian books and Ukrainian products to be way more awesome and way more interesting, because only by making these changes we will survive and win the war.’ Dana Pavlychko
Despite the fact that ‘Osnovy’ is making all effort to change the publishing business and create a new positive image of Ukraine, Pavlychko claimed they were keeping distance from the state. ‘Unfortunately, Ukraine is corrupt, and officers are more interested in stealing than helping out. It is hard to do business here, it is very bureaucratic, people want bribes every single day and not just in the government, but everywhere in the society. But we have to fight against it, do the best we can, and be contemporary and successful,’ she concluded.