Chytomo Picks

From expeditions to books: Behind Ukraïner’s unique approach to publishing


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Since 2016, Ukraïner has been a community on a quest to define the true essence of Ukraine. By 2021 it had evolved into a publishing house, pioneering a unique format that set it apart as a notable phenomenon in Ukrainian book publishing and media landscape. Every Ukraïner book is crafted using materials gathered from extensive expeditions — spanning thousands of kilometers traveled, hundreds of towns visited, countless interactions with locals and hours upon hours of conversations, interviews and recordings. 


The publishing house’s mission revolves around showcasing the multifaceted nature of Ukraine while helping Ukrainian society become more open and receptive to positive changes. Their publications illuminate initiatives across different regions, delve into traditions and crafts, capture the beauty of Ukrainian landscapes, highlight diverse communities and in the midst of full-scale invasion, echo the resilence and resistance of Ukrainians. 

Inside the Ukraїner publishing house 

Yevhenia Sapozhnykova, editor-in-chief at Ukraїner, joined the team following the occupation of her homeland, Crimea.


“This topic means a lot to me, as well as the project that is imbued with love for Ukraine. After 2014, the question of self-identity took on new urgency for me. I realized I knew so little about my country. What a shame. And when I encountered a project that was not only of a high-quality and visually captivating, but also aimed at introducing Ukraine, I wanted to become a part of it.” 

According to Yevhenia, the idea of producing books from multimedia content was envisioned at the project’s inception, which was then charted out to span a year and a half of expeditions around Ukraine.


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“We strived to create a publication that would come close to capturing the authentic Ukraine, showcasing its different facets, not just super “photoshopped” images or the most popular places,” she explained. 


She continued, “Around that time, the Ukrainian book publishing industry was gaining momentum. The fact that a book was published in Ukrainian was seen as a sign of quality , making it more of a cherished addition to one’s shelf. From the outset, we hoped people across the world would buy our books as gifts and presents. That’s why we chose to publish them in hardcover — to make them everlasting,” Yevhenia said.


The first book, “Ukraïner. Ukrainian Insider”, came in 2019. It was prepared in cooperation with the Old Lion Publishing House on a short notice because the publishing house aimed to debut at one of the most important book events of the year in Ukraine — Book Arsenal. This book is based on the first round of expeditions around Ukraine between summer 2016 and winter 2018.


Ukraїner team curated the most memorable moments from our trips: stories about Zakarpattya buffalo and the Askania-Nova nature reserve (Kherson region, within the dry Taurida steppe near Oleshky Sands), narrow gauge railways, Chornobyl, Mariupol, as well as national musical instruments and regional crafts. Immediately after its publication, the book became the best-selling book at 9th Book Arsenal International Festival in Kyiv, and was nominated for the grand prix of Book Forum Best Book Award-2019, where it received two awards. While working on this book, Ukraїner formed the team which later became its publishing staff.



In 2021, Ukraїner published a non commercial edition of its first independent book titled “Who Are We? National Communities and Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine.” This is a book about the daily life, traditional holidays, arts, crafts, and modern experience of more than 30 national communities who reside in Ukraine, including the Gagauz, the Greeks of Azov Region, Austrians, Roma, Jews, Czechs, Cubans, Nigerians, and also Ukrainian ingenious groups: Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks and Crimean Karaites.


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“One of the missions of this project was to build cultural bridges where none existed. The lack of such bridges is being filled with Russian propaganda, and we know very well that Russia spends lots of money to mold global perceptions of Ukraine, and we know quite well how Russia does it. That is why it was so important for us to break one of the false narratives being spread by Russian propaganda. According to this myth, Ukraine is a racist state that doesn’t accept other cultures and nationalities, and is monocultural,” Bohdan Lohvynenko, founder of the project, said at the presentation of the book in Lviv.



In 2022, the publishing house restarted its work, published several books and had numerous projects in full swing. In particular, Ukraїner had started working with invited authors. Serhii Klimov, expert on Ukrainian winery, went on an expedition with the Ukraїner team and prepared the book “Нерозказана історія українського виноробства” (Untold Story of Ukrainian Winery). Ukrainian writer and poet Myroslav Laiuk was also working on his book.



2022: reactivation of publishing in Kharkiv, retrieval of Christmas traditions 

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine suspended the work of the publishing house for several months because the printing shop they had previously cooperated with stopped accepting new orders. They also had doubts whether it was appropriate to publish  the planned edition given the new circumstances. However, in April 2022, even as shelling continued nonstop, the employees of the Kharkiv Unisoft printing shop decided to continue working on shortened shifts. The publishing took this decision as a sign that they should resume work as well. Doubts about the feasibility of the publication were dispelled immediately when foreigners began to take an increased interest in Ukraine, while Ukrainians sought solace in various manifestations of Ukrainian culture.


“Right now a book about Ukraine serves as a form of therapy for Ukrainians themselves,” representatives of Ukraïner say.


Ultimately, all books planned for that year were published. These include the second installment of “Ukraïner. Ukrainian Insider” which is based on materials of the second round of expeditions throughout the regions of Ukraine during 2019-2021, and “Ukraine from above”, a large-format book featuring photographs of Ukraine from a birds’ eye view. 



“Christmas and Malanka” is another thematic edition. It is a result of an ambitious winter expedition between 2021 and 2022, that describes Ukrainian winter holidays whose roots go back to ancient times. The book has two sides and combines descriptions of quiet family Christmas celebrations and the clamorous bustle of a Malanka festival. The Ukraїner team traveled to different regions of Ukraine to chronicle Christmas didukh (or Did, a sheaf of grain), holiday meals and carols, as well as a Malanka street carnival with its masked participants and bizarre costumes. It is also a story about the resilence of a tradition, which continued uninterrupted despite all the attempts of the Soviet regime, and about its revival as well as scholarly exploration.


“There were traditions that seemed to have disappeared in that region, that is, they only survived in written accounts. We asked people who used to do it if they would do it again this year. And seeing our interest they said: “Yes, if you are interested, we will perform it.” That’s how the locals in Popova Hreblia organized themselves, even though they didn’t plan to continue the tradition, but you can say we pushed the community to restore it,” Natalia Vyshynska recalls, who was in charge of finding the subjects for the expedition.



After the liberation: An expedition chronicling war and Ukrainian resistance 

The first book by Ukraїner about the war was published in 2023. Yevhenia Sapozhnykova says it is the result of an expedition around the de-occupied cities and towns during spring-autumn of 2022.


Unlike other publishing’s house books that were made in full-color and had many bright photographs in them which complemented the story, “De-occupation” took a stark visual approach with black and white images which carried an additional emotional weight. Nevertheless, the book is still part of a multimedia project and you can see all photographs in color on the website, and, if you want, watch a video from the expedition. 


In the foreword to this book, human rights activist and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Oleksandra Matviychuk writes: “It is important to amplify the voices of people who survived Russian occupation, as their narratives often get overshadowed by the loud declarations of politicians who call to give the aggressor country the occupied territories to satisfy their imperial appetite. The voice of the survivors makes it clear that these proposals are immoral.”



They will soon begin the English translation of the “De-occupation”, and the book is certainly one of the tools which allow readers to show and explain what is going on in Ukraine right now. After Feb. 24, it became evident that the world knows little about us. And if we don’t fill these gaps, then Russian propaganda will. 


“With the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the demand from different countries and publishers for a comprehensive publication about Ukraine was so great that we began translating and publishing our books in Britain, Japan and Germany. We were told that the demand was enormous and there was still a significant ongoing necessity for such publications ,”Yevhenia Sapozhnykova notes.


In November 2022 the German publishing house Frederking & Thaler (Munich) published a book about Ukraine based on “Ukraїner. Ukraine Insider” and “Ukraїner. Ukraine Insider 2”. It was important for a German publisher to not only change the cover and to adapt the text for their readers. They have chosen the most interesting stories for them and united the two editions under one cover. A Japanese publisher has now bought rights for publishing this book from the German publishing house. In 2023, adaptations of expeditionary books by Ukraїner were published by Batsford Books in Britain and by Nikkei National Geographic Inc in Japan. 



While the Ukraїner team has nothing against books adaptation, they have set some fundamental guidelines that do not change. If these the books discuss Ukrainian regions, they must use a Ukraїner map, which shows historical and ethnographic regions, not just an artificial division into oblasts. Accurate toponym transliteration is also essential: Kyiv not Kiev, Odesa not Odessa.


The team also carefully ensures that all contexts, including historical ones, are presented correctly, because Russian propaganda is successful all over the world, distorting history and spreading interpretations of the current war: “In one case we had to correct “paramilitary groups in Donbas” to “Russian military” and say: “Dear friends, let’s call a spade a spade.” We’re treading on delicate ground and we realize that we are responsible for the content of messages about Ukraine, which, when translated, will be spread globally.”



The publication is a part of the “Chytomo Picks: New Books from Ukraine” project. The materials have been prepared with the assistance of the Ukrainian Book Institute at the expense of the state budget. The author’s opinion may not coincide with the official position of the Ukrainian Book Institute.