Ukrainian bookworms were eager to dig into the latest publications at the 12th annual Book Arsenal festival, where more than 100 Ukrainian publishing houses and five major bookstores set up racks – even as blackouts ran throughout the capital of Kyiv.

According to the organizers, the May 30 to June 2 festival – held for the second time since Russia’s full-scale invasion – attracted more than 35,000 visitors – 7,000 more than last year.

Its slogan was “Life on the Edge.”

One display – charred books, still smelling of smoke – seemed to encapsulate the message. They were a sampling of the tens of thousands of books ruined by a Russian missile that hit the Factor Druk and Vivat Printing House in Kharkiv only two weeks before the book festival.


“Russia is at war with humanity and all aspects of normal life,” President Volodymyr Zelensky had said in a social media post following the attacks, which killed seven people and wounded nearly two dozen.

Beyond the display of burned books – other exhibitions, discussions, performances, film screenings, concerts, public talks, and book collections were some of the 160 points of interest at Book Arsenal.

A proverbial melting pot

Book Arsenal festival. Photo: Oleksandr Avramenko.

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For many years, Book Arsenal has been a melting pot for new ideas.

Over the course of a few days every year, Mystetskyi Arsenal – the massive 19th-century arsenal building turned art complex – transforms into a colossal bookstore.

Publishing houses and bookshops give visitors the chance to explore a multitude of genres – from history to romance, adventure to personal biography.

Art exhibition at Book Arsenalna festival. Photo: Oleksandr Avramenko.


Speakers engage in panel discussions, endeavoring to communicate their thoughts to audiences – often amidst the bustling clamor of book-loving crowds in the background.

Visitors rush between pavilions, stands, and stages in search of new experiences, information, thoughts, and reflections.

Among these, a group of girls rushes to a lecture hall to hear 28-year-old war hero and soon-to-be “The Bachelor” reality TV show star Oleksandr Budko talk about his recently published autobiography. 

War hero and soon-to-be reality TV show star discusses his book

Author, war veteran, and soon-to-reality TV show star Oleksandr Budko. Photo: Oleksandr Avramenko.

From the girls, you hear fragments of phrases, like: “He is so handsome and fascinating” and “What a great book he wrote!”


On stage, you see a modest-seeming man, looking rather excitedly at the people in the hall.

In his book, “The Story of a Stubborn Man,” the former platoon commander of the 49th separate motor rifle battalion “Carpathian Sich,” tells how he lost both of his legs during the Kharkiv counteroffensive.

Budko says he never planned to write a book, but during the war, he started taking notes and realized he had something to say.

Kherson radio – Russian occupation fails to silence Ukrainians

Radio workers, left to right: Roman Kolyada, Marharyta Laznyk, Olena Huseynova, Iryna Slavinska, Dmytro Khorkin. Photo: Oleksandr Avramenko.

As Budko tell of his experience fighting the Russian military in the east, at another panel, radio workers talk about working under Russian occupation in the south.

There, Marharyta Laznyk, a correspondent from Kherson, under great risk, said she went on air even while her city was occupied by the Russian army.

Every day, she would catch a signal on the roof of her house and start her broadcast: “Good afternoon, this is Ukrainian Radio from Ukrainian Kherson.”


When Kherson was liberated, there was nothing, neither light nor communication, Olena Huseynova, a radio producer and writer said.

“People learned about [Kherson’s] liberation by listening to Ukrainian radio on battery-powered devices,” she added.

Kharkiv – Struggles and triumphs of wartime Ukrainian publishers

An example of a book burned in the May 23 Russian missile attack on a Kharkiv printing house. “Motanka” is a collection of short prose in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy by Ukrainian writers about the female experience of living in war and the powers that manifest under special circumstances. Photo: Oleksandr Avramenko.

The destruction of libraries, attacks on printing houses, and even murders of writers are some of the challenges Ukrainian publishers are facing, speakers at another panel, “How to Turn the Challenges of the Ukrainian Publishing Market Into Victories” said.

More and more Russian attacks in Kharkiv – the capital of Ukrainian publishing, where the lion’s share of Ukrainian-language books are printed – have taken their toll.

The printing house “Faktor-Druk” which was hit on May 23, was alone responsible for almost a third of all Ukrainian books before it was destroyed in the Russian missile attack.


But Ukrainian publishers continue to print books and organize large-scale events like Book Arsenal 2024, MEGOGO manager Kateryna Kotvitska said.

A representative from Sens, a popular chain of bookstores in Ukraine, even said that Ukrainians are reading much more now than before the full-scale invasion.

Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Rostyslav Karandeev said that despite setbacks, there’s cause for celebration.

“The fact that we – authors, publishing houses, and even readers – have endured, is a great victory,” he said.


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