The president of the Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association, Oleksandr Afonin, addressed the UK global publishing industry at the London Book Fair yesterday and painted a horrific picture of the situation in his homeland.  “A mob of barbarians has invaded Ukraine and they, after twenty years of being zombied by Putin’s propaganda, turned into a mob of slaves without morals and conscience, culture and humanity. They are destroying our towns and villages with missiles and bombs, killing civilians, regardless of their age or gender. And the death toll is already in the thousands.”

He said the “Russian occupiers” are “confiscating from libraries, schools, and universities all literature on the history, culture, and art of Ukraine and destroying it… Putin has set a cannibalistic goal – to destroy Ukrainians as a nation and Ukraine as a state. He is trying to kill everything that is the soul of Ukrainians: our history, culture, language”.

The pre-recorded message was played at the session on the role of publishers in global conflict which heard from Cortina Butler at the British Council, Jane Mann of Cambridge University Press and Sheika Bodour al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association.

Butler spoke about the importance of culture in nurturing and preserving a nation’s identity and how one of the very few good things to have come out of the current situation is the new interest in Ukrainian culture.  “We mustn’t over claim for what culture can do, but shared cultural exchange is important.  We have an exchange programme called Rethink, now delayed until May, and I would urge you to support those Ukrainian cultural figures who are coming to the UK.”

She also underlined the power of books by noting that Peppa Pig titles, even untranslated, have the power to make them feel comforted “because they remind them of home”.

Mann noted that books have a role to play “in preventing conflict before it has happened – so books that encourage discussion and different views”

Al Qasimi said the IPA “stands in solidarity with all publishers in time of conflict”, and talked about the ability of books to heal, their role in peace building and their use in ‘bibliotherapy’, helping refugee children process what has happened to them.

She touched on this earlier in the day when she spoke at the official opening of Sharjah Market Focus.  She said: “The world doesn’t need more

The last word, quite rightly, belonged to Afonin.  He concluded his passionate address by listing how the UK and the rest of the world can help.  “Buy rights from Ukrainian authors, print Ukrainian books in your printing houses…[and] appeal to the governments and parliaments of your countries to provide weapons to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and close the skies over Ukraine!”