A Ukrainian shoemaker works and watches the war from afar in Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — In the front of a modest shoe repair shop in Colorado Springs, a smartphone played YouTube field reports from Ukrainian military officials, as it does almost daily. Alexander Belanchuk says today’s dispatch is about Ukrainian forces trying to destroy some of the Russian artillery.

He listens to updates in his native language. He did it that day by putting new soles on a pair of cowboy boots. Now in his 60s, Belanchuk decided to follow in his uncle’s footsteps… and trained as a shoemaker from the age of 14.

“I liked when he built them completely from scratch: boots, shoes, etc.,” Belanchuk said, watching his uncle at work.

More than half a century later, his own shop – Crazy Alex Shoe Repair – keeps him busy six days a week. He writes customer receipts in pencil on yellow tickets and he only accepts cash or checks. His business shows up on a Google Maps search for “Colorado Springs Shoe Repair,” but other than that, he doesn’t advertise.

“My ad? Those are my skills,” he laughed.

Shoemaking isn’t Belanchuk’s only job. Colorado Springs resident and customer Patrick Logue recently recovered a leather satchel that belonged to his father. Logue asked Belanchuk to restore the bag after working on a pair of his wife’s boots.

“These Ugg boots were 20 years old and he brought (them) back to life,” Logue said.

Belanchuk followed his son to Denver after moving and living in Brooklyn, New York, for about 30 years, where he also repaired shoes. Three years ago he took over Bon Shoe Repair, located north of downtown Colorado Springs. Every day is long. In addition to the huge amount of work he has, he still commutes between Denver and Springs every day; he and his wife have found a home they love near where she works.

While his life is in Colorado, Belanchuk’s heart still remains largely in Ukraine. He said there had been bombings near his hometown of Berdychiv and he still had plenty of family in the country.

He hasn’t been able to contact any of them since the Russian invasion.

“I have no idea (where they are); if they survive, if they move, if they stay – no idea,” Belanchuk said.

When he has a free moment, he goes to the back of his cluttered shop and turns on the fluorescent light hanging above a small table. One of his passion projects is creating religious portraits – by lightly hammering stunning detail into copper plates.

Belanchuk relies heavily on this passion, especially during this time of war in his home country – a time with no end in sight. Maybe he would go back there to help, he said, if he were a younger man.

Instead, he watches from afar and keeps busy.

And he prays for his home country, struggling with his own good fortune when so many people are suffering.

“Because we have (a) beautiful beautiful day. Sunny day. Good weather. Lots of food,” Belanchuk said. “And those people who… people (who don’t have) bread?”

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