UPDATED: Are We Financing the Enemy? How the Ukrainian Book Business Cooperates with Russia


Despite the full-scale war, book publishing in Ukraine is gaining momentum. According to theMinistry of Culture, in 2023, 270 new publishers were registered, and the number of new books printed increased by 73% compared to the previous year, 2022. However, if you think that Ukraine has finally rid its bookshelves of Russian "cultural occupation," you are mistaken. There are still publishers and bookstores that continue to collaborate with Russia.

Molfar, in collaboration with the Ukrainian media "Sensor," focused on culture, has prepared an investigation on how certain publishers and bookstores continue to do business with the aggressor country.

Following the Russian aggression and full-scale invasion, the direct importation of books from Russia to Ukraine was banned. However, Russians found a workaround—Russian publishing houses conduct their country's pre-printing preparation. Then, a Ukrainian subsidiary publishing company purchases the rights to print and acts purely as a printer. Meanwhile, the main profit is received by Russia, spending even less on the costly printing process. Subsequently, these publishing companies even receive grants from the Ukrainian government.

This is how Russians have continued their "cultural" expansion in the Ukrainian book market. Thus, for a long time in Ukraine, "printers" of such Russian publishing giants as "Eksmo," "Azbooka-Atticus," and "Alpina Publisher" have been operating quite successfully.

According to theState Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting, as of April 2023, nine Ukrainian bookstores were selling less Ukrainian-language content in their online stores. These bookstores are “Grenka,” “LiderBooks,” “Лавка Бабуїн” (Baboon's Shop), “Bookovka,” “Книжкова Лавка” (Book Shop), “GoodBooks,” “Bizlit,” “Книгосклад” (Book Warehouse), and “Книжковий дім” (Book House).

For example, one of the most famous books published by the Russian "Alpina" is the book by Russian journalist Ilyakhov, "Write, Shorten," which once flooded Ukrainian bookstores. Its subsidiary in Ukraine, "Alpina Publisher Ukraine," belongs to the Russian businessman Alexey Ilyin. The company does not express any position regarding the war, and its last publication on Facebook dates back to February 23, 2022.

Another publishing house is "Azbooka-Atticus." This group owned the publishing houses "Machaon-Ukraine," which published many children's books, and "Native Language," which was renamed and re-registered its business in Ukraine in 2022.

The owner of "Azbooka-Atticus" is the Russian businessman Alexander Mamut. Today, he is under sanctions in Ukraine. In 2021, Mamut sold the business to Oleg Novikov, the owner of the Russian publishing house "Eksmo-AST." 


The narrative "Ukrainian language is a dialect, and Putin is the best president in the world" — "Eksmo-AST" publishing house

The company "Eksmo-AST" is a monopolist of the Russian book market. It has been present in Ukraine since 2003 when the Russian "Eksmo" and Ukrainian entrepreneur Yaroslav Marinovich founded LLC "Eksmo-Ukraine."

"Eksmo-Ukraine" had a market share estimated at 50%. However 2014, Marinovich declared that he had no ties with Russia. Moreover, "Eksmo-Ukraine" was renamed "Distribution Book Trading Company," and Marinovich left the co-founders that same year. But connections with Russia were maintained through the publishing houses "Bookchef," "Fors Ukraine," and the online store "book24.ua", which have joint managers with the "Distribution Book Trading Company."

In investigating companies affiliated with the Russian "Eksmo," Marinovich's name repeatedly emerges. He could be the actual owner of these businesses. He is currently a co-owner of the "Bukva" bookstore chain. He indirectly owns the publishing group "KM-Books" through his Polish legal entity. Additionally, as of December 2023, the legal entity YM Investment Ltd., together with LLC "Distribution Book Trading Company," remains a co-owner of "Dream Country" — a publishing house that was also an "Eksmo" project in Ukraine.


Yaroslav Marinovich, co-owner of the "Bukva" network and the "KM-BOOKS" publishing house, has responded to the investigation. His position can be found at the following link.

Since the same year, 2014, the company "Eksmo-Ukraine" underwent extremely odd transformations. The main share of the company was acquired by a pensioner from Kharkiv — Lyudmyla Oleksiivna Bozhko, who is currently 81 years old. This individual has never appeared in press releases, announcements, or official information.

We found her profile on the social network "Odnoklassniki" ("Classmates"), which is banned in Ukraine. Lyudmyla Bozhko is subscribed to groups that promote support for Putin and Russia. Lyudmyla likes pro-Putin and anti-Ukrainian publications, which claim that "the Ukrainian language is a dialect; American diplomats dream of dismantling Russia, betrayal is the norm of social morality in Ukraine." (12345678).

скріншот зі сторінки Людмили Божко "однокласнікі"
A person with such preferences became the owner of one of the most significant Ukrainian publications. 

However, it's likely not the 81-year-old woman from Kharkiv behind the "Distribution Book Trading Company," but the former owner of the Ukrainian "Eksmo" — Yaroslav Marinovich himself.

The pensioner who admires Putin is a front. Likely, the "Distribution Book Trading Company" was essentially "Eksmo" in a Ukrainian wrapper, since in 2014, the British company "YM Investments Ltd" became a co-owner, with Yaroslav Marinovich serving as its director later, from August 2016 to March 2017.

Although "Eksmo" currently does not have a direct distributor in Ukraine, the analysis showed that several companies, including "Bookchef," "Fors Ukraine," and book24.ua, have close ties with "Eksmo" and the Russian market. And again, we recall Lyudmila Bozhko.

The Russian trace in "Fors Ukraine" and "Bookshelf" 

Lyudmila Bozhko, who, in addition to owning a share in the "Distribution Book Trading Company" until 2020, as of December 2023, owns LLC "Fors Ukraine." This LLC acted (12) as the applicant for the trademarks of the Bookchef publishing house. According to an interview with the former director of "Fors Ukraine," Oleksandr Kirpichov, in 2016, "Fors Ukraine" launched the book24.ua online store for selling books. Before the full-scale invasion, "Fors Ukraine" imported books from Russian publishers, predominantly from the "Eksmo" holding. It was found that up to 2019, the company made 1813 such purchases, 98.7% of which were deals with "Eksmo". (123)

"Fors Ukraine's" PR representative, Oksana Gashynska, confirmed that the publishing house bought rights and printed books in Ukraine from the Russian "Eksmo." Some books the company tried to import from Russia were prohibited due to their propagandistic content. 

Even after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, "Fors Ukraine" faced accusations of collaborating with "Eksmo". Specifically, on the Russian website iRecommend.ru, a user posted a review of a book published in 2022. Her photo shows that "Fors Ukraine" is listed as the official distributor for the Russian "Eksmo". 

фото книги виданої у росії - "форс Україна" зазначено партнерами
Photo from a Russian review site. In Ukraine, the partner of "Eksmo" is "Force Ukraine"

"Bookchef" and the online store book24.ua seem to have completely different founders and owners. For example, the former founder of "Bookchef" until January 2024 was Andriy Plekhov. Meanwhile, book24.ua is owned by his wife, Natalia Plekhova. However, upon closer examination of these individuals, it becomes clear — that Natalia Plekhova is the daughter of Lyudmila Bozhko, and Andriy Plekhov is her son-in-law. Thus, the Plekhov-Bozhko family owns all three companies involved in publishing.

All three individuals — Lyudmyla BozhkoAndriy Plekhov, and Natalia Plekhova — according to YouControl data, are Ukrainian citizens. Thus, their companies freely operate in Ukraine. However, the results of a joint investigation by the media "Sensor" and the agency "Molfar" prove that Natalia Plekhova, the owner of book24.ua, holds Russian citizenship. 

book24.ua has Russian roots but wins Ukrainian tenders

Natalia Plekhova, the owner of the online store book24.ua, has been doing business with Russia since April 2022. Moreover, in May 2022, she registered as a sole proprietor in Moscow. The type of activity corresponds with the Ukrainian company LLC "Buk24," which owns the online store book24.ua: "retail trade conducted by mail order companies or via the internet."

In addition to the shared business activity code and Plekhova's Russian citizenship, there are other signs of her connections with Russia. In Russia, a similar online store, book24.ru, belongs to the already mentioned "Eksmo." Plekhova attended "Eksmo" events in Russia in 2015. For instance, there is a photo of her with Tatyana Ustinova, a Russian writer, against the backdrop of the "Eksmo" stand.

Наталія Плєхова та письменниця Тетяна Устинова
This photo was posted by a relative of Lyudmila Bozhko, Natalia Plekhova's mother, who is among her friends.

It should also be noted that the Russian discount website skidka.ru features a profile for the book24.ua store, explicitly referring to the Ukrainian version of the site. Purchases made on it can even earn cashback.

Despite these facts and connections with the Russian publishing house "Eksmo," during 2018-2019, the LLC "Buk24" won 8 state tenders amounting to 102,000 UAH.

The owner of "Bookchef" has a Russian bank card

"Bookchef" is a project associated with "Fors Ukraine". It was discovered that the former owner of this project, Andriy Plekhov, possesses a card from Russia's Sberbank. This may indicate his possible residence or activity in Russia. Books published by "Bookchef" in Ukraine in 2022 are sold on the Russian platform WildBerries.

скріншот книг видання bookchef на wildberries
Screenshot from the Russian site Wildberries. Books sold by "Bookchef" publishing house

Despite these clear connections with Russia, between 2021 and 2023, the publishing house "Bookchef" won 9 state tenders totaling 196,300 UAH. 

It turns out that…

The former owners of the Ukrainian branch of "Eksmo" and the daughter of one of them, Nataliya Plekhova, who possesses a Russian passport and runs the business book24.ua, retain control over these projects. It can be assumed that the Russian "Eksmo" remains present in the Ukrainian book publishing market. Ukrainian publishers have repeatedly complained about companies that have connections with the former branch of "Eksmo." However, there has yet to be a decisive response because there are no violations in the legal field.





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