“Kharkiv is a printing capital.” Consequences of Russians destroying largest printing house in Kharkiv 

Yana Sliemzina - 31 May 2024 | 10:35
The book called Клуб врятованих ("The book of those who were saved"). Russian missile strike on Kharkiv on May 23 destroyed one of the largest printing houses in Europe, according to Ukrainian publisher Vivat / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media

UKRAINE, KHARKIV — On May 23, Russians destroyed the Kharkiv printing house Factor-Drunk. Seven employees were killed in a missile strike, and 21 people were injured. The Russian attack burned 50,000 books by Ukrainian and foreign authors. 

“That was an attack on culture, right in the heart of the Ukrainian book publishing industry. In the part of culture that essentially composes narratives that create the national idea and spirit,” said Serhii Polituchyi, the president of the holding company that includes Factor-Druk itself and Vivat, one of the major Ukrainian book publishers. 

Factor-Druk is the third printing house Russia targeted in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Earlier, Russia shelled Folio’s office and attacked Ranok’s warehouse with multiple rocket launchers. Earlier this spring, a Russian anti-ship missile hit the Gurov and Company printing house, where Ranok’s books were also published. 

According to Vivat, almost entire Ukrainian book industry worked with Factor-Druk, “It’s one of the biggest full-cycle printing houses in Europe.” 

Apart from books, the building itself and the unique equipment inside was destroyed in a Russian attack. Factor-Druk estimates overall damages to be around €6 million. 

Emergency service workers are putting out the fire that caught the printing house in Kharkiv in the aftermath of Russian massive missile attack on Kharkiv on May 23 / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media
Emergency service workers are putting out the fire that caught the printing house in Kharkiv in the aftermath of Russian massive missile attack on Kharkiv on May 23 / Photo: Ivan Samoilov for Gwara Media


Vivat’s representatives said that it’s hard to forecast print run for 2024, because Factor-Druk printed up to 80% of all books Vivat published. Their overall print run of 2023, a second year of Russian full-scale invasion, was over 2 million books.

They’ll try to redirect publishing to other printing houses, but the process won’t be quick. 

Representatives of Ranok, another major Ukrainian publisher company founded in 1997, said that Factor-Druk published 15-20% of their overall print run, mostly textbooks. Their priority now is to restore the lost editions and print remaining textbooks in other printing houses. 

“There’ll be additional expenses, logistics reset, and loss of time, so delays in new editions’ releases are expected. Overall, the consequences of Factor-Drunk destruction will reverberate across the entire industry because practically all major publishers of the country have collaborated with this printing house,” Victor Kruglov, the general director of Ranok, said. 

According to Kruglov, the publishing industry will lose 30-40% of its capacity in the aftermath of Factor-Druk destruction. That will cause queues for printing to appear in other printing houses, the printing costs will increase as, consequently, book prices. Restoration of Factor-Druk will take time, which will affect the volume of publishing and release of new books to the market. 

“The saddest thing, however, is that innocent people died, irreplaceable experts,” Victor said, adding that there’s a shortage of skilled specialists like that in the industry. 

Because of the situation in Kharkiv (the situation being constant Russian attacks raining on the city because of its proximity to the state border and the frontline), Ranok collaborated with several other printing houses in other Ukrainian regions. Factor-Druk, however, remained one of their main partners. 

The Russian attack burned or partially destroyed Ranok’s editions of German study books, children’s fiction books, and 60 tons of paper they’d prepared for the new textbooks. They’ll seek to print these editions elsewhere, 

“The attack on Factor-Druk printing house is a conscious terrorist act, conducted for causing inevitable losses to [Ukraine’s] publishing sector and culture. And that’s before Book Arsenal, the country’s most important book festival, before a new study year,” Kruglov said. 

With the aftermath of the attack in mind, Kruglov said, it’s especially important for the country to enable Ukraine’s publishing industry. The law that aims to do so, by compensating rent prices for bookshops and giving out certificates to prompt Ukrainians to read, was passed by Parliament on May 24, a day after the Russian attack on Factor-Druk.

In Kruglov’s opinion, making printing houses a part of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure is another way of helping the industry. Vital for the state’s functioning, critical infrastructure facilities are to be protected better than a usual business, and their employees can be “booked” and not be drafted. 

Book Arsenal's exhibition "Books destroyed by Russia" that includes Vivat's books / Source: Olena Zelenska's Telegram channel 
Book Arsenal’s exhibition “Books destroyed by Russia” that includes Vivat’s books / Source: Olena Zelenska’s Telegram channel 

In the interview with VOA, Serhii Politychyi said that, after Factor-Druk destruction, “Ukraine will feel the lack of textbooks for school, and the book market might shrink by 40%, at least until the destroyed printing house is restored.” 

Restoration and new challenges

At least six months are needed to restore the printing house, Polituchyi said. 

“We plan to restore it entirely. Everyone’s asking about relocation. It’s impossible. No other printing house has left Kharkiv, and none plan to. Kharkiv is a printing capital, so almost all experts live here. We love our city, so we don’t want it to decline. Our role is to help Kharkiv [stay] the way we love it. In particular, we can help [the city] stay afloat economically.” 

//President of the holding Factor-Druk Serhii Politychyi / Photo: Oleksii Yeroshenko for Gwara Media 

Vivat also plans to keep working in Kharkiv. The publisher has two bookstores here; they’ve opened one of them during a full-scale invasion. 

“Our office — our company’s heart — is also in Kharkiv; our employees go to the office, to the warehouse, to our bookstores every day, so it’s important for them to keep doing that job, to create the best books. It’s not just [a place of employment] for them, so both of the bookshops for us is our support for the city, its residents, and our employees,” Vivat’s team said. 

After the Russian attack on Factor-Druk, Nova Poshta, a Ukrainian postal service company, said it’ll deliver Vivat’s books for free until the end of June. People on social media launched a flashmob in support of Vivat (with a #фактордрук hashtag). Many went to Vivat’s bookstores to buy more books and support the company. 

“Factor-Druk printed books by different Ukrainian publishers, and we’ve seen that some of the guests looked at [technical page] of the books to see where they were printed and support Factor-Druk. We also see that a lot of Ukrainians show support by donating. We’re grateful for the support of our readers, partners, and friends. It gives us the power to keep doing our job even in the most difficult times.” 

Bookstore's opening in Kharkiv / Photo: Daria Lobanok for Gwara Media
Bookstore’s opening in Kharkiv / Photo: Daria Lobanok for Gwara Media

Gwara Media journalists visited several Kharkiv bookstores. Employees there said that their sales dropped a lot. They connect the decline to intensified Russian attacks on the city: the book isn’t a first-priority thing you’d take with you when you’re leaving. People want to help the publishers, though, and ask how they can donate. 

Recently, another bookstore was opened in Kharkiv, also from a major Ukrainian publisher. They told Gwara that, so far, they have a stable flow of customers buying books asking about new releases. 

Hi! Thanks for reading this piece. Daria Lobanok wrote it in Ukrainian to explore how Russia’s attack on Factor-Druk will impact our region and Ukraine’s publishing. We’re a Kharkiv-based newsroom, so you know things have become tougher for us since early May. Please, consider also supporting our journalism on ​​PatreonBMC, or PayPal

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