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In eastern Ukraine, a shoemaker at the front repairs soldiers’ boots free of charge

#eastern #Ukraine #shoemaker #front #repairs #soldiers #boots #free #charge

Ukrainian shoemaker Sergiy Kurchigin sits at his old sewing machine, waiting for customers in one of the few shops still open this close to the front lines.

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, many businesses closed as thousands of residents fled the eastern city of Kramatorsk, including his wife and daughter, who now live in Germany.

But even as the sound of shells draws closer and Russian troops move deeper into the Donbass region, the shoemaker in his sixties says he won’t go.

Kurchigin says he can no longer imagine the craft he learned from Armenians in his hometown in the 1970s.

“No work, no play, no satisfaction,” says the craftsman, who denies his exact age, while operating his 19th-century foot-sewing machine.

“A man has to earn money to support his family,” he adds.

By staying behind to work in his neon-lit workshop, he can also do his part to support the war effort.

“If soldiers or volunteers come by to have their shoes fixed, I don’t charge them anything,” he says, while a few members of the Defense Forces chat on the opposite sidewalk.

– ‘Till I die’ –

A war between two culturally close countries like Ukraine and Russia is “absurd,” says the shoemaker in front of his “shoe repair” sign in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Kurchigin opened his first shoe store back in 1976 when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

It was so successful that he decided to open a second store in the same town.

But because of the war, “there’s nobody there now,” he says of the second venture.

Business is no longer going as well as it did in his first workshop.

But “since everyone here knows me, I always have one or two people a day,” he says.

Even without new orders, there’s always something to do, he says, pulling an old pair of sneakers off a shelf. At first he only repairs shoes because the war has made new leather unaffordable.

Between the customers he works out.

He picks up a small weight off the floor and lifts it a few times, then grabs his wooden-handled chest expander for more exercises.

When asked when he plans to retire, Kurchigin says he has no idea.

“I will continue to work until I die because it is very difficult to live without a job,” he says.

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#eastern #Ukraine #shoemaker #front #repairs #soldiers #boots #free #charge

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