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Over 30 Ukrainian writers died defending Ukraine, with more than 80 currently serving

Ukraine’s pavilion at Frankfurt Book Fair centers on the “Fragility of Existence” and environmental damage caused by war.
Over 30 Ukrainian writers died defending Ukraine, with more than 80 currently serving

Over 30 Ukrainian writers have been killed and more than 80 authors are defending the country on the frontlines. This message the Ukrainian delegation conveys at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2023.

The 75th annual Frankfurt Book Fair kicked off in Germany with Slovenia as this year’s Guest of Honor. Slovenia’s exhibit focuses on introducing the diversity of its literature and culture under the theme “Honeycomb of Words.” Meanwhile, Ukraine’s pavilion centers on the “Fragility of Existence” after Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022, Ukrainska Pravda correspondent writes.

“We will talk about what hurts us the most – the fragility of being,” says Olena Odynoka, Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Books. “War not only takes lives but also destroys everything around.”

“We are experiencing a second Executed Renaissance, and this applies not only to writers but cultural figures overall,” Odynoka explains.

This year’s topic contrasts with last year’s theme of “Persistence of Being” when Ukraine’s publishing industry spotlighted its resilience amid missile attacks, blackouts and logistics challenges. Now the focus shifts to the precariousness of life and culture.

Environmental damage is another priority. Children’s book author Kateryna Mikhalitsyna aims to discuss the war’s universal impacts through the lens of ecology. “We’re trying to transition to a completely different level of conversation, using a new universal language. For me that’s the language of ecology. It’s something that won’t let Ukraine disappear from radars because ecology is what no one can turn away from.”

Ukraine’s pavilion displays shocking statistics on ecological devastation from the invasion. It also highlights the obstacles for publishers due to transport difficulties and isolation. For example, an exhibition of illustrations took three days to deliver to Frankfurt.

Despite challenges, 43 Ukrainian publishers are present with over 500 books. Rights sales leader Old Lion Publishing has contracts for translations in nearly 50 countries. Meanwhile, some newcomers like Prometheus Publishing are just getting started on international outreach.

While Ukrainians are understandably exhausted, giving up is not an option, says Strayi Lev’s (Old Lion Publishing House) Director Mariana Savka.

“This is a war of attrition, and the same goes for the cultural struggle.

Last year, the attention was much greater, there were constantly huge crowds of people at our booth. This time it’s less, but the professional segment has increased. Each such exhibition actually works, it allows us to move forward a little. It’s just like our military is moving forward little by little. And we are moving forward a little here, and now we need to gain a foothold and keep working,” Savka stressed

The Ukrainian Institute’s Director Yulia Kozlovets argues it’s time to move beyond exclusively tragic narratives to demonstrating Ukraine’s expertise.

“Ukrainians have experience in so many areas – illustration, book design, strong writing, cultural management, innovative products like festivals and cross-cultural projects. We can be useful and interesting to the world, not only because we’re at war. The war just helps us focus on what matters most.”

Mikhalitsyna agrees Ukrainians must reframe themselves not just as victims but as people with valuable experience to share. “Our position as a country with survival expertise – that’s something we can offer the world.”

“When you have an army that is standing up to the so-called ‘second army in the world,’ it greatly raises interest in your literature,” renowned writer Oksana Zabuzhko said at Slovenian pavellion.

Despite profound challenges, Ukraine’s resilience and creativity continue shining through at Frankfurt. By highlighting fragility, Ukrainians are sending the message that their culture cannot be destroyed and has much wisdom to impart to the wider world.

Russian literature reinforces its imperialistic policy, Ukrainian writer Zabuzhko says

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