bookpublishing industry in times of war

A month after the Russian strike on Kharkiv printing house: What is the impact on the industry?


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A Russian missile attack on May 23 destroyed the Factor Druk printing house, dealing a significant blow to Ukraine’s book publishing industry. The strike killed seven skilled specialists with irreplaceable expertise. The attack on one of Europe’s largest printing complexes has caused a backlog in printing orders and is expected to drive up book prices. 


Several leading Ukrainian publishing houses relied on Factor Druk for printing. The destruction has also impacted the educational sector, as the printing house produced 40% of Ukraine’s school textbooks.


People are the most important


The attack on Factor Druk is a tragedy for the entire printing industry. The victims were not only employees of this printing house but also worked at other book production facilities in the city. They were professionals with years of experience, and their loss is deeply felt by the publishing community.


Oleksandr Popovych, director of Unisoft, one of Ukraine’s largest printing houses, described the impact of the tragedy on Kharkiv and the book industry as significant and very personal for his team. “We’re all grieving because many Factor Druk employees had family ties to our factory workers,” he said. 


Shelling hits Kharkiv every day, forcing people to leave and causing a shortage of specialists. Twenty-two Unisoft employees are currently fighting on the front lines, and one has been killed.


At the same time, the workload hasn’t changed for Unisoft; they have been booked 1.5 to 2 months in advance for about a year.


Russian forces have previously targeted key printing industry facilities, including Unisoft, which was damaged due to shelling. They also launched a missile strike on the Hurov and Co. printing house in March. In July 2022, the occupiers heavily damaged the House of Printing, almost completely destroying it, and struck the logistics center of the Ranok publishing house.


“The loss of human life is the most devastating aspect of this tragedy,” said Viktor Kruglov, director of the Ranok publishing house. “While equipment can be replaced, the people who lost their lives in the strike are irreplaceable. We’re already experiencing a shortage of specialists in the industry, making this loss even more keenly felt.”

Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Mahula/Suspilne media


RELATED: Russian shelling damages offices and warehouses of some 20 Ukrainian publishing houses


The queues for printing


Tetiana Hryniuk, CEO of Factor Druk, told Chytomo that the company is currently signing contracts with equipment manufacturers and searching for used equipment, as new machines are prohibitively expensive. Meanwhile, the company is clearing debris and dismantling the roof. “Much more than 50,000 books were destroyed in the fire,” she said.


Factor Druk’s annual production capacity of 10 million books – a third of all books printed in Ukraine – cannot be compensated by other printing houses, leading to delayed new releases. “I have a three-page list of titles we were supposed to deliver in May-June, and we’re appealing to other printing houses to complete our semi-finished products, at least partially,” Hryniuk said. However, reproducing books from scratch is almost impossible due to financial constraints. 

Photo courtesy of Ihor Leptuga/Nakypilo media


Apart from delays, Viktor Kruglov predicts the Russian attack’s destructive consequences will increase book printing costs. Power outages, material shortages, and potential new shelling in the Kharkiv region, where many printing houses are located, will also impact printing services costs. Relocating such capacities is not feasible or financially viable.


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Impact on education


When the shelling occurred, around 3% of the textbooks intended for Ukrainian schools for the upcoming academic year were in various stages of production at Factor Druk. The printing complex annually produced approximately 40% of all educational materials, making the attack’s most significant consequence a potential shortage of printed textbooks. Currently, production is completely suspended. 


The attack destroyed 84,000 German-language textbooks for seventh grade, published by Ranok, which will be reprinted at other Ukrainian printing houses at the publisher’s expense. 


However, if Factor Druk is not restored quickly, the education sector may face a severe shortage of educational literature next year. Another challenge the publishers and printers are facing is the difficult energy situation in the country. 


“While fiction book releases can be delayed, we have strict deadlines for textbooks. The Ministry of Education holds a textbook competition in the spring, and publishers must print and deliver the ordered publications to schools by the summer’s start, making timely production crucial,” Kruglov said.

Photo courtesy of the Governor of Kharkiv Oblast Oleh Syniehubov/Telegram channel


Meanwhile, another Kharkiv-based book factory, Globus, is distributing printed textbooks, which have begun arriving at schools in the region. Factory representative Oleh Khotyniuk reported a smooth delivery process with no delays. “We’re receiving valuable support from local authorities, utility services, and everyone involved, even providing generators when needed,” Khotyniuk said, highlighting the collaborative effort to ensure timely textbook delivery.


Assessment of damages


Factor Druk is still conducting an inventory to determine the exact number of books destroyed in the missile strike and fire. So far, publishing house Vivat, which belongs to the Factor Group Company, has reported another loss, with over 83,000 copies confirmed destroyed. This brings the total number of destroyed books at the Factor Group Company to potentially over 100,000. Factor Druk’s losses, including destroyed and damaged unique equipment, are estimated to exceed $8.5 million USD. Meanwhile, publishing house Ranok’s damages amount to almost $200,000 USD.  

Photo courtesy of Ihor Leptuga/Nakypilo media


Tetiana Hryniuk estimates that restoring the printing house could take up to six months, pending receipt of funds from foreign donors. Industry experts have offered diverse opinions on potential aid, but agree on the need for a mechanism to insure military risks for enterprises operating in the Kharkiv region. 


Help from readers, business, and international community


Currently, neither publishers nor printers will receive compensation, as insurance companies refuse to insure businesses in Kharkiv. Experts suggest that grant support from the European Commission for purchasing books for libraries could be a vital instrument in supporting the industry’s recovery.


In the initial weeks, readers rallied to support the printing house and affected publishers. Nova Poshta stepped in to assist publishers by offering free book delivery. As a result, they delivered 19,492 orders from Vivat’s website within a month, which marked an almost fourfold increase from the orders delivered the previous month. To date, Vivat has fulfilled almost 28,000 orders, with an additional 8,000 pre-orders awaiting printing.

Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Mahula/Suspilne media


In addition to reader support, state leaders and international funds have pledged assistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has directed the Ministry of Economy and the Kharkiv regional government to provide state-level support to the industry following the strikes. However, it’s too early to discuss government financial assistance for recovery, as Ukraine lacks an established mechanism for providing financial aid to private enterprises. 


The Renaissance Foundation was the first to respond, offering an urgent grant to the publishing house to help overcome the consequences of the shelling. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association (Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels) has immediately issued a statement urging people to donate and support Factor Druk. Notably, German publisher Katapult, which prints its geopolitical magazine “Katapult” at Factor Druk, has launched a fundraiser to aid the affected printing house.


Later, the fund of American billionaire Howard Buffett announced plans to help restore Factor Druk’s losses, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will allocate funds for printing textbooks for junior school students in Ukraine.


Russia struck a devastating blow to Kharkiv’s printing capabilities just a week before the International Book Arsenal Festival, a premier event in Ukraine’s publishing industry. In a show of solidarity with the damaged printing house and publishers, the festival featured a poignant stand titled “Books destroyed by Russia,” displaying charred publications and allowing visitors to donate to Factor Druk’s restoration via a QR code. The powerful exhibition will now travel to various countries, raising awareness and support for Ukraine’s publishing industry.

Photo courtesy of Book Arsenal 



Translation: Iryna Baturevych

Copy editing: Joy Tataryn

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