In a historic building in the city center of Kyiv, the fortification is formidable. Built in 1798, the Mystetskyi Arsenal was designed as a cannon factory, with yellow brick walls that are six feet thick. The arsenal became a museum and culture center 20 years ago. Yet in the aftermath of the 2022 Russian invasion, it stands as a symbolic citadel for Ukraine.

In late June, the Mystetskyi Arsenal was transformed into a giant bookstore and literary salon for the annual International Book Arsenal Festival that is a highlight of the Ukrainian publishing year.

Outside in Kyiv and across Ukraine, the war continued. Russian missiles regularly soared over the city’s night skies, and only weeks before, the Kakhovka Dam was breached, likely by Russian munitions.

Inside the arsenal, 28,000 people over four days attended nearly 100 book festival events with nearly 200 program guests.

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It’s difficult to imagine more challenging circumstances for a book festival than to be held during war. Yuliia Kozlovets, the book festival’s coordinator, described what the event meant to Ukrainian authors, publishers, and booksellers – and their audiences.

“Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, is standing. Kyiv keeps living. Kyiv keeps fighting. And a lot of people are living here in Kyiv, and there is a big demand from these people to have cultural events,” she said. “Life here is not normal. Having the festival now here doesn’t mean that everything is like before. It doesn’t mean that we have no sirens which are announcing the fire attack, or we have no bombings or shellings sometimes. It happens. It even was happening with us at one of the nights between two days of the festival – on Saturday of the festival.”

The festival theme – When Everything Matters – captures the daily predicament of Ukrainians today, Kozlovets explained.

“When Everything Matters – it’s about this moment in which we are living now. We are living in the moment of time when for our nation, for everybody in Ukraine, things have their actual meaning,” she told me.

“When you are telling people that we are wishing you a calm night, it means that we really are wishing the night without sirens or without the bomb shelling sounds. When we are speaking about freedom, we are thinking about freeing of our territories, freeing of the prisoners of the occupants, freeing of our land, homes. We are speaking also about the freedom as a main idea of Ukrainians who are fighting for our freedom, for Ukraine to be free,” Kozlovets stated.

“When we are saying something about what democracy means, it’s not something very abstract. I guess that Ukrainians now understand democracy much clearer than ever, and maybe clearer than other nations understand it, even the developed democracies, because the people living in the developed democracies – they were not fighting for these values during the last 70 years.”


Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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