Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, Oct.20, made an impassioned plea at the world’s biggest publishing event for authors to write about the “terror” unleashed by Russia’s invasion.
War-ravaged Ukraine is in focus at this year’s edition of the Frankfurt book fair, with numerous authors and industry figures appearing throughout the week at the country’s large stand.
“Instead of importing culture, Russia imports death,” Zelensky told the fair, in a video address.
“So I ask you, please do everything to make people know about the terror that Russia brought to Ukraine.”
“Knowledge is the answer,” he went on. “Books, documentary scripts, articles, reports — these are the answers.”
Zelensky’s wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, is due to appear in person on Saturday, Oct 22, speaking at a side event.
Organisers and participants see such high-profile events as key to promoting Ukrainian culture in the face of what they say are attempts to wipe out the country’s identity with Russian propaganda.
Meanwhile Russian state institutions, which usually run their nation’s stand, have been banned, with prominent opponents of President Vladimir Putin instead given the stage.
‘Lack of knowledge’
In his address, Zelensky also took aim at those who had not come out to condemn Russian aggression.
“We must be straightforward here — there are still plenty of public figures in Europe who are encouraging ‘understanding’ of Russia,” he said.
“These people are present in different spheres: politics, business, NGOs and media.
“Why is this possible?… the only answer is, the lack of knowledge.”
Sofia Cheliak of the Ukraine Book Institute, part of the culture ministry, underlined the efforts taken by Ukrainian industry players to attend the fair.
Getting furniture and books overland to Frankfurt was also a major challenge, said Cheliak, who helped organise the stand.
“Because of attacks, everything was closed. It was quite hard to find a car, and organise the whole process,” she said.
But the stand is there, with a wide array of Ukranian books of every variety. It also has a stage, above which a large red light flashes when air raid sirens go off back in Ukraine.
Forty-six Ukrainian publishers will take part in the five-day fair, which runs until Sunday. Among the many authors attending are the well-known “punk poet” Sergiy Zhadan.
‘Fight with art’
And while the Ukrainian publishing industry initially ground to a halt following Russia’s invasion in February, it has since rumbled back to life.
Sales may not be what they were before the conflict, but some types of books are proving popular, said Cheliak. These include books on Ukrainian history and how to deal with trauma.
One Ukrainian who went to great lengths to attend the fair was illustrator Oleg Gryshchenko, who took a 17-hour bus ride and a flight to get to Frankfurt.
But he believes it was worth it to promote Ukrainian culture.
“I have not joined the army but we can fight with our art,” Gryshchenko, 37, told AFP, at a display of pictures by Ukrainian illustrators’ group Pictoric.
“A lot of Ukrainian artists have joined the military and I am proud — but I am better at drawing than with a gun.”
Gryshchenko, who travelled with his girlfriend who is also an illustrator, said the journey was tiring but they felt they had to attend.
“I would even travel for 20 or 30 hours,” he said.
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