Story #153. It Felt Like Walking Through a Cemetery: How Factor-Druk Printing House Operates After the Russian Attack

July 5, 2024
Interview with the director of the printing house

Factor-Druk is a printing house in Kharkiv that has been in business for 28 years. Approximately 90% of all Ukrainian publishers and a few foreign ones printed their books there.

On May 23, Russia launched three strikes against the printing house. Seven people were killed, and 21 employees were injured. The attack destroyed equipment that is not produced in Ukraine.

We went to the facility on the 42nd day after the tragedy and spoke with Tetiana Hryniuk, the director of Factor-Druk.

Previously, the printing house hosted tours for school-age children, allowing them to see firsthand how their textbooks and diaries were printed. Now, the halls echo with a different type of visitor: journalists documenting the aftermath of a Russian war crime, capturing the stark reality of lives lost and the destruction of over a hundred thousand treasured books.

The Russian attack almost destroyed the binding workshop. The sheet-fed and web-fed printing workshops sustained some damage. According to preliminary estimates, Russia destroyed over 100,000 books. However, this figure is not final.

Photos: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. A pile of destroyed books on the binding shop's premises
A diary for a music school riddled with shrapnel

Dismantling work is currently underway at the printing house. Tetiana estimates that restoring the binding workshop will take at least six months.

"At first, we believed the building could be rehabilitated by bracing the walls and preserving some columns. But once we started dismantling, we realized there was nothing to save. The roof should be removed, and the walls are leaning like the Tower of Pisa. We only noticed the cracked foundation while hauling out the burnt machines."

Photos: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. Dismantling of the binding shop

The printing house needs more than 6 million euros to replace equipment destroyed in the fire. This includes mostly used machines, rather than new ones. The reconstruction of the premises will cost approximately 1.5 million euros.

"But these are only current estimates. Additional costs may arise during the process. For example, there are no windows in the other rooms, all of the walls are damaged, and the roof, while it survived, leaks during rainy weather."

The company has resumed printing books, but without the binding workshop, complete book production is currently impossible.

Photos: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. The working part of the printing house

The Howard G. Buffett American Foundation is assisting Factor-Druk in purchasing equipment and restoring the most damaged facility. However, the search for donors continues, as the printing house needs to restore the books destroyed in the fire.

The fire destroyed not only the books that were about to hit bookstore shelves but also the archives. The printing house kept one or two copies of each publication created in the previous seven years.

Tetiana was just ten meters away from the explosion when Russia carried out the attack.

I was walking from one building to another when my phone rang, and I stopped. I was only a few meters away from getting outside when the explosion occurred. Debris, stones, glass, and metal fragments flew into my face. About a minute later, there was another explosion. A minute later, a third," Tetiana recalls.

Photos: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. Territory of the printing house

Tetiana recounts the day in fragmented pieces. Later, she was told that she helped lower production workers into the shaft and bandaged them with someone's t-shirt...

"But where did I get it? I must have undressed somebody. I can't remember that. It's as if that day flew by like a flash; some things I can remember, and then nothing."

On that day, the workshops were attended by approximately 50 people. Others were on the printing house grounds or in different rooms. Due to the shock, she can't remember the journalists she spoke with that day.

"I don't remember their faces; all I recall is that I was cursing them. Only the police saved them from me."

Tetiana does, however, recall how people were rescued from beneath the rubble and how the roof collapsed.

Everyone had a difficult time, but no one left their job. During the first week, everyone cried. It was impossible to enter the workshop. We couldn't touch anything; everything remained as it was. It felt like walking through a cemetery. By the second week, we had begun clearing the debris. We recently held a memorial service and meal to commemorate the 40th day. Everyone cried again, even the men. However, the mood has now turned into one that is very determined. Everyone understands that we must move forward and restore the printing house. Yes, it is difficult, and it will not happen quickly.

The killed employees of the printing house

"We could have never imagined this would happen. There are no military targets nearby. Only civilian enterprises. No warehouses or dormitories. That is why we lived peacefully," Tetiana explains

At the time of the interview, three employees were still under medical supervision. One of them had undergone an elbow joint transplant. All three women are now in satisfactory physical condition.

Photos: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. Destroyed equipment

Apricot trees grow on the company grounds, and according to Tetiana, the printing house employees also grow vegetables. They intended to create an artificial lake in the courtyard and introduce swans.

Tetiana shows us the crater left by the explosion, now filled with water, and ironically says, "The Russians did it for us."

Photo: Nika Krychovska/UkraineWorld. The crater left by the explosion

The Russian attack on the Factor-Druk printing house was unquestionably a cultural genocide. Throughout its long history, Russia has made numerous attempts to eradicate Ukrainian culture, including burning books and killing people.

Kharkiv is a magnificent and resilient city that Russia is attempting to transform into a deserted wasteland through its almost daily attacks. Therefore, the city needs more air defence systems, and Russia's latest crime must be punished.

Nika Krychovska
Journalist at UkraineWorld