Ukrainian publishers have reacted angrily to their governmentâ€™s ban on importing books from Russia, claiming it will create a black market and damage the domestic industry.
The ban, passed by Ukraineâ€™s parliament, is the latest front in the battle between Kiev and Moscow that has been running since Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Russian forces seized power in parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Books from Russia account for up to 60% of all titles sold in Ukraine and are estimated to make up 100,000 sales a year.
Although the ban has been under discussion since September, its sudden implementation caught booksellers and publishers by surprise. Speaking to Eugene Gerden of the Publishing Perspectives website, Alexander Afonin of the Ukrainian Association of Publishers and Booksellers warned the move would lead to a shortage of books and force Russian titles underground. He predicted that the ban would last until 1 April at least.
Afonin added that Ukrainian book importers had begun to terminate or suspend agreements with Russian distributors. He said that no compensation had been offered by the government for the loss of business and there was little hope of the slack being taken up by homegrown titles. At leading publisher Summit Books, Ivan Stepurin said: â€œCurrently, local publishers donâ€™t have sufficient resources to replace banned books from Russia.â€
Stepurin blamed the high cost of translation â€“ $3,000 to $5,000 (Â£2,500 to Â£4,000) per title. â€œThis is too expensive for Ukrainian publishers, taking into account that most books will sell no more than 2,000 copies,â€ he told the website. â€œWith translation and rights costs so high, the ban will result in a shortage of books in various sectors of the market â€“ especially in educational literature and world classics, where the local publishersâ€™ impact has always been slight.â€
Ivan Bogdan, CEO of the countryâ€™s biggest online bookseller Yakaboo.ua, said the trade had called for restrictions to imports rather than an outright ban, and had warned prohibition would hit the countryâ€™s beleaguered economy. â€œToday, we have a total ban, rather than well-designed restrictions. That means that the state budget is suffering losses, because of the lack of tax receipts from book importers,â€ he said.
Inna Yehorova, first secretary at the Ukrainian embassy in the UK, confirmed to the Guardian that the ban was active and that it was intended as â€œa mechanism restricting access to the Ukrainian market of foreign anti-Ukrainian printed matter content.â€ She said that the law did not apply to materials and books imported in individualsâ€™ luggage, if the total amount was not more than 10 copies.
The ban follows an order in December 2016 that restricted access to â€œanti-Ukrainian contentâ€ from Russia. It continues a culture war that has been running between the two nations since 2014, alongside military hostilities in eastern Ukraine. On Friday, it emerged that lawyers for Natalya Sharina, director of the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow, had taken her case to the European court of human rights. Sharina, who was arrested in 2015 after books banned by Russia were allegedly found in the library, has been under house arrest for two years. But while her trial began in November, the Russian authorities seem no nearer to proving their case against her for embezzlement and incitement through books banned as â€œextremistâ€ than they were three months ago. Sharina denies all charges.