Lilia Omelianenko
fotografy: Lilia Omelianenko

Ukrainian publisher continues work in exile


Hjoed ien jier lyn begûn de oarloch fan Ruslân takin Oekraïne. Yn maart 2022 spruts de Moanne mei de Oekraynske útjouwer Lilia Omelianenko. No, hast in jier letter, sprekt de Moanne har opnij om te hearren hoe’t it mei har en harren kollega’s giet.

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Ukrainian publisher Lilia Omelianenko fled the country on the 4th of March 2022, two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine took place. Ever since she and her team work throughout Europe from where they are able to continue the publishing activities. ‘Every Ukrainian is very vulnerable, no one is sure about the future.’

When I call Lilia via Messenger, she just got back from France where she attended the huge comic Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême. ‘We did find nice light children comics which we might publish.’ It shows she carries on working, despite the war.

‘The answer would surprise you’, she replies to the question how things went for the publishing house Vydavnytstvo last year. ‘Since a year, our country cancels Russian books and culture. Ever since we have much more space for Ukrainian books. Before the war started, the Ukrainian book market has been heavily occupied by Russian literature, there was much less space for Ukrainian literature. Now we sell more books than before the war, because people want Ukrainian written publications.’

Maya and her moms

Maya and her moms


As soon as Lilia fled to Slovakia, she started a project to be able to support child victims of the war. It all started with Tammi, a great publishing house in Finland, who bought the rights of one of the children’s books called Maya and her moms written by Larysa Denysenko (1973) and illustrated by Masha Foya, and started the whole campaign of promoting this book in Europe. Ever since the rights are sold to Sweden, UK, Poland, Germany, Estonia, Iceland and Friesland. In most of the countries all proceeds from the sales of the books went to UNICEF to support Ukrainian children suffering from the Russian invasion, it raised more than euro’s for already. ‘We are so proud, we never thought a small book could make such a big difference.’

cheque foar UNICEF

Berneboeke-ambassadeur oerhannigt de sjek foar UNICEF oan ambassadeur Sipke Jan Bousema op basiskoallen de Twa fisken en Nijdjip yn Grou

Maya and Her Moms is quite typical for Vydavnytstvo, which has a strong focus on social issues. ‘It’s a book for children aged 6 years and older about seventeen types of families in which children live in Ukraine, with one school class representing the whole. There are children who left Crimea after Russia’s invasion, children whose parents died in the war, children whose parents are working abroad, children from same sex families and others.’

Ever since the war the focus has slightly changed though. ‘Still social stuff is our focus. But we need a wider orientation because it is limiting us. Some are tired of social stuff. So now we do several local things, like a series of Ukrainian graphic novels with subjects such as borscht (a national type of soup), Ukrainian literature and a history of Ukrainian feminism. People never saw something like that, it’s full of facts, fun and humour and has been accepted very well on the market. Furthermore, we continue translating books and publishing children’s books.’

Publishing books is very different since everyone lives and works somewhere else in Europe. ‘I would not be able to do this without my very talented and motivated team. My co-founder and co-publisher Eliash Strongowski lives in Warsaw with his family for a year. Our designers are in Kyiv and Ivano-Frankivsk, the warehouse people are in Lviv and the editors and translators’ life and work all over Europe. It somehow works, funnily enough the corona virus has been helpful to all this: due to that we got used to remote working.’

Everyone is very vulnerable, no one is sure about the future 

Larysa, the writer of Maya and Her Moms, still lives in Kyoiv. She has not been able to leave town or the country, because her parents, with whom she lives, are old and not in good health. ‘I don’t know how she copes… Before all this happened, Larysa used to work so much, simultaneously on different projects. But now it’s very difficult, both practically as morally. She’s at home experiencing a lot of stress, living with her fragile parents, being afraid of bombing. She somehow did write a new book though, called Children of Air-Raid Warnings, which already has been translated in Finnish and Lithuanian. To be honest I don’t know how Masha (Foya, illustrator of the book Maya and Her Moms) is, I haven’t spoken to her for a long time and don’t have any information, I don’t even know if she is still in Ukraine.’


‘People still buy books’, Lilia tells. ‘Even more!’ But just like every publishing house, Vydavnytstvo suffers from the high prices for paper. ‘We try to produce our books cheaper in order to survive and to be able to continue our business. We also hope European bookshops will show more interest in selling Ukrainian books. They seem to think it’s too expensive for Ukrainians to buy them, but that’s not true. Ukrainians love to buy it and often have money since they continue working in exile and are allowed to work in every EU-country.’ Vydavnytstvo experiences a lot of support throughout Europe. ‘Colleagues abroad buy our new titles and help us with different contacts.’

Visiting Kyiv

Lilia went back to the office of publishing house Vydavnytstvo for two weeks in November last year. ‘This was after the big electricity cut started. It was very tricky to work for everyone, because we depend on electricity a lot – think about heating, lightning, computers and printing. No one knows when the electricity is on. Our translators, editors and designers don’t know when they have a possibility to work. It means many projects have been stretched out much more and people work during the night as long as there’s power or internet connection. Consequently, productivity is much lower.’

Vydavnytstvo used to store all books in warehouses close to Kyiv, but gradually had to move it to a safer place. The books used to be printed in Kharkiv, but it has become too risky to work with them because of artillery and heavy shooting, so Lilia and Eliash decided to change the printing house. ‘It’s difficult to predict anything, we never know which location will be touched by the war, neither as we do know about persons. Everyone is very vulnerable, no one is sure about the future.’

Work in exile

Since March ’22 last year Lilia lives in Bratislava in a flat with her two daughters, a best friend and her daughter. ‘We somehow cope and survive. I think I will stay here until things are better in Ukraine. It’s now unsafe to live there and impossible for me to do my work in Kyiv. The Russians are bombing our infrastructure, which is horrid and unbearable during our long cold winters.

I’m so pleased we still experience a lot of support from Europa, support in terms of people, money, economy and weapons. Without this it’s not possible to stay strong against Russia. The war unfortunately costs a lot of blood and deaths.’

Lilia deeply sighs. ‘I live by the day because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I sometimes feel so exhausted. I had to take care of my family, my teenage daughters and my team who need to be paid. I cannot give up. I have been separated from my husband for almost a year, he’s not allowed to go anywhere because of martial law. He works for the country and helps the army to the extent he can, like every person in Ukraine. To be honest I don’t know any Ukrainian citizen without stress, a lot of people suffer from depression, it’s a nightmare we’re living in. But the Ukrainian nation is very strong, we don’t give up and we will definitely win in this war against Putin and his terrorist nation.’

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Previously ‘de Moanne’ spoke to Lilia Omelianenko in March 2022 about the war and opportunities to continue working. Ukrainian publisher: there is no save place in Ukraine now.



'de Moanne' wol in breed en kreatyf poadium biede foar aktuele en skôgjende bydragen oer kultuer en de keunsten. 'de Moanne' lit sjen wat der yn en om Fryslân spilet, yn taal, byld en nije media. 'de Moanne' ferskynt op it web, op papier en organisearret 'live'-moetingen.