Chytomo Spotlights

Kyiv Book Weekend: ‘Ukrainian book has gone beyond the “bubble” of well-known faces’


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Last December Kyiv hosted the third Kyiv Book Weekend festival. Has the brand of book festivals grown stronger in Ukraine? Has it succeeded in setting the visitors in a Christmas mood? And how is it possible to establish a new festival amidst the war?


Idea and organization


Held at Christmas eve, when publishers prepare books on the topic, Kyiv Book Weekend was conceived as a platform for such publications.

“Book events are always an occasion to meet and communicate with like-minded people, and now that Ukrainian book publishing is thriving after the displacement of Russian books, we need to see how the world around literature is growing and developing,” said Dmytro Lappo, head of the organizing committee.



The main location of the festival was the International Exhibition Center. Many participants and guests saw the location of the festival on the left bank of Kyiv (far from the city center) as a disadvantage. However, Dmytro Lappo explained this choice by precautionary measures:


“We, organizers, took all the responsibility for the lives and health of our guests and participants, so having a large shelter was the main reason to choose this place. Unfortunately, there are few venues in Kyiv that offer security for participants of mass events and have shelters of sufficient capacity.”



It turned out that the shelter was necessary because during the Kyiv Book Weekend the air raid alert went off twice. Vihola Publishing House, for example, held their event despite conditions: the presentation of “Warships. Evolution of Battleships and Aircraft Carriers” by Maksym Palamarchuk took place in the bomb shelter.


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Program and topics


More than 110 events — presentations, discussions, poetry readings and book signings — took place during the three days of the festival. The festival events took place on six stages on the ground floor. In addition, there was a separate area for book signing with its own schedule.


Program director of Kyiv Book Weekend Mykyta Moskaliuk talks about event organization: “We arranged the program to cover those fields that remain in the shadows. There were a lot of applications from publishing houses, and we tried to give a word to everyone. An important part of the program was the festival of anime culture where we presented manga and comic books, and tried to engage young people.”


There were many cosplayers at the festival, and the anime stage was, in fact, almost not separated from the main hall which means it was hard not to notice the presence of comic books and anime fans at the festival, even for those who are not into it.



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The program was eventful and interesting for both professional visitors and book lovers. This year’s topics were traditionally focused on history and war, the development and future of books in Ukraine and the world.


Public discussion “The Russo-Ukrainian War. Two Contexts” between authors and historians Volodymyr Viatrovych, Serhii Plokhy and Oleh Kryshtopa was one of the most visited among events. Here’s what Gnat Laguna, head of the assortment department at Book Club “Family Leisure Club” tells about it: “As publishers, we have focused on authors, not on the books they write. The result turned out to be unexpected even for us — the hall was crowded with people who came to discuss history. It was very cool.” It was expected that Serhii Plokhy’s book “The Russo-Ukrainian War. The Return of History” was among the top sellers at Book Club “Family Leisure Club”.



KBU Awards 2023 (text in Ukrainian), a special award to celebrate Ukrainian authors for the best books on business development and personal growth, was one more spectacular ceremony. Since 2021, it has been awarded to authors of business literature, and this year in response to public demand the organizers have created several new nominations: “Formation of National Identity,” “History of Ukraine,” and “The War between Ukraine and Russia.” It seems that this event was meant to be the so-called showcase of the festival. There was live music, a photo zone and a buffet.




“We tried to bring everyone together — dozens of book clubs and genres whose fans don’t know about each other and whose paths usually do not cross — to show that Ukrainian book has gone beyond the “bubble” of well-known faces, and has become rich and diverse, and new “bubbles” are already forming within it,” said Dmytro Lappo.




The topic of war was not limited to the presentations of the books: a separate discussion on war crimes, human rights and values was held by human rights activists Larysa Denysenko and Liudmyla Yankova, and a public activist and author of the book “Ours. Common. How to preserve a human being during and after the war” Tanya Kasyan.


Participants have also discussed the mass Ukrainization of book blogs, untapped niches in blogging (children’s literature for instance) and, of course, the demand for books about history and identity. Tetyana Ryabchenko, PR manager at Book Club “Family Leisure Club”, announced the amount of sales of the “Gates of Europe. History of Ukraine” by Serhii Plokhy as an example: 55% of the print was sold out within 7 years, and the remaining 45% — within 1.5 years of the full-scale invasion. Booksellers and publishers are now slowly groping for new rules of the game. Readers are becoming more and more involved and influential in the book publishing process.


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The discussion about Ukrainian audiobooks, their distribution, audience behavior, work at the intersection of literature and sound, was also very interesting to the professional community. Kateryna Kotvitska (Head of Megogo Audio), Danylo Tryndiuk (Abuk) and Iryna Slavinska (Radio Culture) shared their experiences. The search for online audio content, its marketing, and piracy was marked as global problems of the field. Participants of the discussion have also pondered over the use of artificial intelligence in audio content which can record a book faster, but is also much more expensive. For better promotion of audio content, famous people are often invited or original marketing approaches are sought. “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing: A Memoir” by Matthew Perry (Ukrainian edition by Nash Format) was narrated by the character who previously voiced Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry’s character) in “Friends” TV series.






The ground floor hosted stands of more than 80 publishers and a few chain bookstores (Ye bookstore, Bookling). Almost all publishers complained about low sales, some managed to break even, others called the festival commercially successful, but had comments about the organization. Friday was the worst day for sales, and it seemed there were more guests who attended events than those who came to the stands of publishing houses. People mostly bought books on Saturday. Sunday sales remained in second place for most of the participants which could be explained by the air raid alerts that day.


It was the first offline festival for Vydavnytstvo publisher during the war, but despite doubts about the “not very convenient” location and lack of trust in the “well-trusted book place,” the publisher decided to “get back in line.” Liliya Omelianenko, co-founder of the publishing house, shares that the book fair was not commercially profitable for them, but it was a great opportunity in other ways: “For me, it was justified by the fact that I saw people from my circle whom I hadn’t seen in 2-3 years, we reminded ourselves a little bit, talked to distributors, readers, and the team, made a presentation of the book “Almost Good Guys” by Daria Chaika, and told how a small publishing house works.”


The most popular books by Vydavnytstvo were “Solitaire” by Alice Osman, “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder, “My Alcoholic Escape from Reality” by Nagata Kabi, “Sex Story” by Philippe Brenau and Leticia Koren, and souvenirs that have not been exhibited live for a long time.



What’s in the future?


Although the festival did not receive the expected profit and therefore could not transfer funds to the charity project to strengthen air defense, Pack the Sky, the Book Wave campaign collected books for libraries affected by the fighting or occupation.



Even though it was’t commercially successful, Kyiv Book Weekend highlighted the need for a Christmas book fair, made itself known and gained experience as a new market player. Therefore, if the organizational shortcoms and comments of this year’s participants are taken into account, it may well be a candidate for the role of a Christmas book festival in the future. After all, no book festival is too important for popularizing reading, introducing new ‘book bubbles’ to each other, and facilitating professional networking and discussions.



This article is part of “Chytomo spotlights:Ukrainian culture on and after frontline” project. The project is funded by the Stabilisation Fund for Culture and Education of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut.