Chytomo Spotlights

What it’s like to open a publishing house during a pandemic and a war


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In the last three years, Ukrainian publishers encountered challenges with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and then, following a brief spite,   a new phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war. One might assume that survival was the primary concern for established market players equipped with resilience against force majeure. However, at least 23 new publishing houses emerged in Ukraine during this period. Some have swiftly become indispensable entities in the Ukrainian book market, while others are still in the early stages of their development. Chytomo asked publishing houses established between 2020 and 2023 about the difficulties they confronted, strategies to overcome obstacles, and the valuable experiences shaping the future growth of the book industry.



Publishers founded during the Covid-19 pandemic


Although it feels like an eternity has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, it started only three years ago. During this period, “Vikhola,” “Laboratoria,” “Ukraїner,” “Parasolia,”“Creative Women Publishing,” “Bookraine Publishing House,” “Vidkryttia” (until 2022, it was called “Litera V”), and “Blym-Blym” managed to start and establish their work.



Yevhenia Sapozhnykova, Ukraїner



We published our first book project under our publisher logo during the pandemic. It is a comprehensive study about indigenous peoples and national communities in Ukraine entitled “Who Are We?” During that time, our team worked remotely, from the initial draft to the book’s publication. We laughed about how we even celebrated the book’s release via Zoom. We received a grant from the UCF (Ukrainian Cultural Foundation) to publish it, which at the time helped us decide to do this great work, and the book came out in 2021. Afterward, there was a pause as we formulated our future publishing plans and our team,” Yevhenia Sapozhnykova, the editor-in-chief of “Ukraїner” Publishing House, explains. According to her, the publishing house was restarted in the spring of 2022, after the full-scale invasion.




Taisiia Nakonechna, Parasolia


Taisiia Nakonechna, the founder of Parasolia Publishing House, reflects on how the pandemic took away certain opportunities while also creating new ones. Notably, both big and small enterprises recognized the feasibility of remote work. “My plan was to understand the nuances of the industry at a normal pace, to determine the pace of further movement and development, while the pandemic continued. Unfortunately, this plan was disrupted due to the significant impact of Russia’s full-scale invasion,” she explained.



Nataliia Shnyr, Vikhola


The impetus for “Vihola” was not the pandemic but the collective redundancy of the entire team from “Nash Format” publishing house. Nataliia Shnyr, one of its co-founders, noted, “I’m not sure if “Vikhola” would have emerged if we hadn’t all simultaneously found ourselves without jobs. However, everything aligned perfectly at that moment: we were jobless, yet eager to work together and continue publishing books. We understood that nobody would accommodate such a substantial team, so we decided to establish our own publishing house to pursue what we’re skilled at and passionate about.”


“Creative Women Publishing,” “Bookraine Publishing House,” and “Portal” are among the publishing houses whose first year of work was during the pandemic, but they managed to establish themselves earlier.




Olena Khirhiy, Portal


The pandemic came a year after we were founded. At that time, we already had a plan and a strategy, authors were writing texts to order, and we had assembled a team of specialists, but of course, we would have liked to have had a little more time to automate processes and introduce ourselves to the market,” Olena Khirhiy, founder of Portal Publishing House, said.



Nataliia Vasylieva planned to launch the “Vidkryttia” publishing house back in 2020, but she didn’t have time to do so in February and decided to postpone the project in March. Later, Vasylieva’s partner in the local history project, Olha Chystiakova, helped her figure out budget planning, contracts, and reports, and in February 2021, the publishing house’s official history began. 



Key challenges for publishers caused by the pandemic


Throughout the pandemic, our main challenge was almost complete absence of offline events, and face-to-face interactions. It’s great that both the Book Arsenal and the Book Forum Lviv launched their online program back then. It allowed us to remain connected in a professional environment, stay updated on the latest releases from other publishers, albeit only virtually,” Yevheniia Sapozhnykova from “Ukraїner” said.


Taisiia Nakonechn from “Parasolia” lamented the decrease in opportunities for offline sales and events during lockdowns. These events often serve as the only chance for small publishers to drive active sales.


Facing a deficit of paper, especially cardboard for covers in our warehouses during autumn 2021, we missed deadlines for several seasonal projects, resulting in unprofitable outcomes. Additionally, the overall surge in paper prices did not favor us, given that we work with small print runs, which already raises the cost of books,” she added. Nakonechna highlighted that the publishing house has yet to achieve self-sufficiency and is actively seeking investment opportunities. Throughout the pandemic, the publishing house prioritized online marketing efforts, which contributed significantly to forming their core audience.



Iryna Nikolaichuk, Creative Women Publishing


Creative Women Publishing encountered a similar struggle. “The biggest challenge we faced amid the pandemic was uncertainty. In the second half of 2020, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to release our first book, “What she is silent about.” It was published on April 13, 2021, coinciding with the gradual reopening of bookstores and the resumption of book festivals. However, the publishing house was significantly affected by a 30% increase in paper prices and increased book production costs in early 2022,” co-founder Iryna Nikolaichuk said.



Anastasiia Minova from “Bookraine Publishing House” expressed concerns not only about the challenges of working online but also about subsequent festival-related issues: “The most challenging period was the spring of 2021 when we had already printed the first editions of our books but had no outlets to sell them. Additionally, the Book Arsenal declined our participation, which could have e equated with marketing death. Fortunately, “Vivat” provided us with space at their stand, which helped us maintain our sanity and make some money. However, after an unsuccessful turnout at the Book Forum Lviv later that year, my partner decided to leave both Bookraine and the publishing business as a whole. The rise in the cost of printing services was another significant setback. We had to release most books in small editions and then print the remaining copies.



Alongside these challenges, “Portal” publishing house encountered specific difficulties related to their publications: collections of materials about the history of Ukraine aimed at younger and school-aged children, which faced a loss of relevance during the pandemic.



Yulia Budnik, Blym-Blym


The “Blym-Blym” children’s publishing house was registered in November 2020. By early 2021, they had already successfully released two full-color comics about the adventures of the Space Postman. “We’ve always grappled with the issue of paper sourcing: it’s either very expensive or comes from Russia. I hope there is no Russian paper now. The cost of printing a book comprises various elements, and any unexpected price surge wasn’t an issue for me, as the estimate is usually calculated beforehand. We need to inform our foreign partners, from whom we buy rights, about the approximate retail price. I can’t recall facing any notable difficulties, only the eager anticipation of my first book sales and the feedback,” founder Yulia Budnik said.


The “Vidkryttia” publishing house highlighted several main issues, including a limited budget, paper shortages, a significant spike in printing expenses towards the close of 2021, and declining audience interest in publications during the pandemic’s peak. Natalia Vasyljeva mentioned that she had to earn money for editing one book by laying out another book.



The war as a catalyst. Publishers founded shortly after the start of the full-scale invasion



On February 24, 2022, the life of Ukraine changed forever with the beginning of a new stage of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop the emergence of new publishing houses. In 2022, “Borodatyi Tamaryn” and “Olean” were established, followed by the births of “Projector,” “Prometei,” “Hravitatsia,” “Free People Verlag,, “Shche odnu storinku,” “Tretii Kolir,” and “Vydavnytstvo 333” in 2023.



Maksym Kidruk, Borodatyi Tamaryn


Maksym Kidruk, co-founder of “Borodatyi Tamaryn” publishing house, noted,



We had been discussing the idea of starting a publishing house long before the full-scale invasion. There are two reasons: first, I was already deeply involved in preparing my books, albeit they were published by “KSD”; and secondly, Tetiana and I are avid readers, and we felt a lack of quality fiction and popular science texts in the Ukrainian market. I planned to wait for the victory, but Tetiana convinced me to start earlier. Moreover, it was a period of incessant price hikes in printing and related services. If we had delayed, our savings would have been depreciated.”




Olena Novitska, Olean


Olena Novitska, co-founder of “Olean”, considered establishing the publishing house as a natural step. “I noticed the removal of Russian-language content from the information space and believed it should be replaced with high-quality Ukrainian books, and decided to contribute to this. I had a previous, unsuccessful experience setting up a publishing house, but I decided to give it another try. Being fluent in five languages, I read a lot of business literature in Spanish, Polish, and French, and decided to translate them into Ukrainian,” she explains.



Anna Karnaukh, Projector


Anna Karnaukh, editor-in-chief of Projector, said  that her initial experience with print media occurred during the pandemic while overseeing the creation of the first issue of Telegraf magazine, focusing on Ukrainian design. “In the winter of 2022, we experienced the cancellation of the Telegraf issue, despite being 70% complete, due to the full-scale Russian invasion. It lost its relevance at 5 a.m. on Feb. 24. However, we changed the concept in spring and finally published the long-awaited second issue in autumn,” Karnaukh shared.


Oleksandra Sayenko, Free People Verlag




Andriy Nosach, Prometei


Andriy Nosach, the founder of “Prometei” Publishing House, acknowledges that the full-scale war accelerated plans to establish a publishing house. Khrystyna Kozlovska, the founder of “Hravitatsia” Publishing House, and Sandra Konopatska, founder of “Vydavnytstvo 333,” encountered similar scenarios.


Oleksandra Sayenko, founder of the Ukrainian-language publishing house “Free People Verlag” in Austria, said  the establishment of the publishing house was a carefully considered decision made over an extended period.



Svitlana Andriushchenko, Shche odnu storinku


Svitlana Andriushchenko, co-founder of the “Shche odnu storinku” publishing house, emphasizes,



There will never be a better time than now because while you are deciding whether to act or not, someone else is already turning their dreams into reality. We opted not to sideline our dreams but to take decisive action. We found an investor who believed in us and gave us the confidence to proceed.”



Similarly, Nazarii Vovk from the “Tretii kolir” publishing house described his motivation, “The idea to establish a comics publishing house emerged long before the full-scale invasion. However, during this period, it was the impetus for action, creating a sense of ‘If not now, then never.’ Initially focusing on publishing translated comics, our direction has now shifted towards fostering Ukrainian art. As a result, we aim to publish works by domestic authors as well.”



All the newly established publishers share their ambitious plans:


  • The “Prometei” aims to release 10-12 books by the end of 2023 and subsequently expand the office network by adding a Kharkiv office to the existing Lviv office.
  • The “Hravitatsia” intends to uncover new talent in Ukrainian literature.
  • The “Free People Verlag” is set to publish a German translation of the libretto for the opera ‘Vyshyvanyi. King of Ukraine’ by Serhii Zhadan in autumn. Additionally, they plan to release a study on the adaptation of Ukrainian children in Austria in both Ukrainian and German languages.
  • The “Shche odnu storinku” will publish their first book in October.
  • The “Tretii kolir” aims to “concentrate on just a couple of projects and not bite off more than we can swallow”, although the first license they bought comprises over 14 volumes.
  • The “Vydavnytstvo 333” is preparing to publish their debut book, “Hymorody,” a collection of historical horror stories by Volodymyr Kuznetsov. They also intend to expand its publication repertoire to include “dark literature” and non-fiction.



Problems of publishers caused by the new phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war


Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, publishers, irrespective of their level of experience, have faced new obstacles and challenges.


Now there are two primary concerns: firstly, the risk of Russian shelling affecting printing houses (where most of our books are printed particularly in Kharkiv), thereby disrupting the book release schedules. Secondly, there’s the challenge of logistics in importing materials from abroad, such as specific paper or cover fabric. Moreover, the escalating costs of materials pose difficulties, particularly in full-color printing and certain layouts,” explains Yevheniia Sapozhnykova, the editor-in-chief of “Ukraїner” Publishing House. She adds that despite these challenges, the presentation of new books brought a sense of returning to normalcy. There were live meetings with readers and a lot of reflection at a time when presentations are held between air raid alerts .


The “Parasolia” publishing house encountered challenges with evacuating their warehouse from Kyiv during the first weeks after Feb. 24th. Furthermore, they’re facing hurdles in selling their products due to reduced purchasing power among readers, who tend to favor larger publishers or books by well-known authors in such times.


A major concern for publishers across the board is the persistent surge in printing costs. Iryna Nikolaichiuk from “Creative Women Publishing” noted, “Printing costs have risen  by 1.5-2 times compared to prices during the pandemic. The pause in operations for many printing houses during the war has led to an increase in service prices among those still functioning. Consequently, our books have become more expensive. However, we’re gratified that our audience understands this situation and continues supporting us. In 2023, we started attracting grant funding. We retain the option of crowdfunding, but we try not to abuse it, because we understand that the primary target of donors today is the army.


Other challenges faced by publishers involve employees leaving the country, layoffs, or getting mobilized into the Armed Forces. For “Borodatyi Tamaryn,” the most significant difficulty is partner-related delays, while insufficient funding poses a major challenge for “Olean.” According to publisher Olena Novitska, “The current issue for all e-book publishers is piracy and the lack of seriousness toward digital content. E-books in Ukraine are often viewed as a low-cost supplement to physical books rather than an independent content type. Moreover, consumers aren’t yet accustomed to paying for digital content, although this attitude is gradually changing.”


“Projector” encountered setbacks in material development and processing due to personal losses within the team and national tragedies associated with the ongoing war. Printing delays also occurred because of power outages during the previous autumn and winter.



Sandra Konopatska, Vydavnytstvo 333


New publishing houses also grapple with issues related to copyright holders and the challenge of balancing multiple concurrent projects. Sandra Konopatska from “Vydavnytstvo 333” mentions, that,“All the co-founders have various ongoing projects, such as creative ventures and volunteer work. As a result, they must prioritize requests from other areas, leaving them little time to dedicate to the publishing house.”



“It won’t be easy, but it will be interesting.” How to succeed against challenging  circumstances


Facing these challenges, Yevheniia Sapozhnykova, editor-in-chief of Ukraїner, advises “Improve flexibility in planning and responding to diverse crises. And stick to your team sharing a common vision and readiness to navigate complex processes together, supporting each other through difficulties.


Taisiia Nakonechna, the founder of “Parasolia” Publishing House, advocates for thorough market research, emphasizing the importance of conceptualizing and planning several book releases in advance before the start.


On the other hand, Nataliia Shnyr, co-founder of “Vikhola”, stresses the necessity of having startup funds alongside a well-defined concept. She suggests that taking risks solely with personal funds, rather than relying on investors or grants, forms the most reliable foundation for starting a publishing venture.


However, Iryna Nikolaichuk from “Creative Women Publishing” offers a different perspective. “It would be remiss not to acknowledge that the initial months of the pandemic took a toll on our team. By the summer of 2020, we had a feeling of not being able to sustain ourselves any longer and contemplated shutting down. Crowdfunding emerged as a lifeline, and my team and I diligently worked to ensure its success, engaging with the media, organizing online events, and more. It was the trust from our audience and the faith that authors placed in us that ultimately kept us afloat”, she shares the story of the publishing house.


Nikolaichuk quotes a  lyric  from the band “Zhadan and the Dogs”:, “What has held you before will hold you in the future,” and suggests that, during times of difficulty, it is important  to remember why the publishing house started in the first place. 


It’s much easier if there is an established community around the publishing house that shares its values. There’s no shame in reaching out to it for both financial and moral support. It’s entirely acceptable for a young publishing house to admit on its pages ‘Sorry, we can’t cope and we need help.’ Don’t be afraid to go beyond the bubble, capturing a new audience, and comprehending that at first your work as small publishing house might be unprofitable, and it often takes from six months to a year, the publisher shared.Anastasia Minova from “Bookraine” Publishing House stresses the importance of having a plan B and avoiding excessive reliance on others. “When starting a business, be ready to take full responsibility as the initiator. This implies that you cannot simply abandon it and move on to another job,” she emphasized.



Natalia Vasyljeva, Vidkryttia


Natalia Vasyljeva from “Vidkryttia” noted: , “You have two choices: start with an idea (challenging, but support is inevitable if the idea resonates with others), or with an investment, such as a certain amount of published books.” She underscores the need for continuous work without breaks or weekends after a promising beginning. “But good books make it all worthwhile. The secret of success for those who achieve it lies in choosing your business and consistently pursuing it daily, with high quality and a passion for both yourself and others.”


Yulia Budnik, the founder of the children’s publishing house “Blym-Blym”, shares, “Book publishing isn’t a ‘gold mine,’ but it’s a truly fascinating adventure.


Olena Khirhiy, founder of “Portal”, says that the most difficult times professionally were helped by the belief that the publishing goal is more important than the circumstances. “In “Projector”, one of the most frequently heard phrases is ‘Create despite your fear,’ which has long served as my personal sedative,” notes Anna Karnaukh, editor-in-chief of “Projector..


Maksym Kidruk, co-founder of “Borodatyi Tamaryn”, is more pragmatic: “It is important to re-evaluate the feasibility of your idea and make sure that there is a paying audience for your product. No matter how great the books you publish, you need to have the resources and skills to tell the world about them  and make them interesting so that, among the hundres of books available, readers chose to spend their hryvnia on yours.  Olena Novitska from “Olean” advises to identify a niche and thoroughly study the target audience first.


At “Creative Women Publishing”, they highlight the potential risks of state support, especially in the initial stages. “The book industry in Ukraine exists solely due to publishers’ enthusiasm, unfortunately. State support is sporadic, and small publishers shouldn’t heavily rely on it. Hence, there’s a need to unify our community,” states Iryna Nikolaichiuk.


Launching now, despite financial risks, is our resistance and affirmation. We’re uncertain if there will ever be an easy time to initiate something new in Ukraine, but it will always be interesting,” concludes in “Ukraїner”.




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.