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Zelensky set for Frankfurt book fair as Ukraine stars

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will address this week’s Frankfurt book fair, with organisers offering emphatic support to the country’s literary scene in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian authors led by “punk poet” Sergiy Zhadan will feature prominently at the world’s biggest publishing event.

Zelensky will make his speech Thursday via video link at the five-day annual fair, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world and hundreds of exhibitors. 

His wife, Olena Zelenska, is also due to speak at a side event. 

Russian state institutions usually in charge of running their nation’s stand have been banned with prominent opponents of President Vladimir Putin instead given the stage.

The fair “has maintained close ties to the Ukrainian book industry for many years”, said the event’s director, Juergen Boos.

“We therefore want to offer direct support to our Ukrainian colleagues now as they withstand the Russian attack.”

The 2022 edition marks a return to near normal after what Boos called “two difficult years” because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The 2020 fair was almost fully digital, while last year’s was muted with many authors joining only via video link. 

This year’s event has no restrictions, although the number of countries represented — over 80 — is still below the level at the last pre-pandemic fair in 2019. 

– No ‘normality’ –

One of the most high-profile Ukrainian attendees will be Zhadan, a writer, translator and musician, and a key figure in the country’s literary scene. 

The author, who has put his writing career on pause as he focuses on humanitarian aid and supporting the Ukrainian army, will read his poems at the fair and be interviewed.

While several other prominent events have been planned around Ukrainian writers and publishers, the fair will also offer a platform to Russian dissidents and opponents of Putin. 

Leonid Volkov, a leading ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and Irina Scherbakova, an activist from prominent rights group Memorial, will discuss the state of Russia’s opposition.

Popular Russian science fiction writer Dmitry Glukhovsky — recently labelled a “foreign agent” by Moscow and put on a wanted list after denouncing the war in Ukraine — will also be appearing.

Lighter subjects are also on the agenda, however, with an in-depth look at #BookTok, a growing community on social media network TikTok where users make short videos reviewing and discussing books. 

Other big names at the show include 2021 Nobel literature prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah from Tanzania and British-Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, German-born actress Diane Kruger and American crime fiction author Donna Leon.

Spain is this year’s official guest of honour, and the fair will be opened Tuesday in the presence of Spain’s King Felipe VI and his wife Queen Letizia, as well as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Leading Spanish authors will also…

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