In Colorado Springs, a Ukrainian cobbler works, watches from afar, and waits for news of his family

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Dan Boyce/CPR News
Alexander Belanchuk in his Colorado Springs shoe repair shop on August 16, 2022.

At the front end of a modest shoe repair shop in Colorado Springs, a smartphone played YouTube field reports from Ukrainian military officials, as it does throughout most days. Alexander Belanchuk says today’s dispatch is about Ukrainian forces attempting to destroy some Russian artillery.

He listens to the updates in his native language. On this day, he did it while affixing new soles to a pair of cowboy boots. Now in his 60s, Belanchuk decided he would follow in his uncle’s … footsteps … and train as a cobbler starting when he was 14 years old. 

“I liked it when he built [them] completely from scratch: boots, shoes, you name it,” Belanchuk said of 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 customers’ receipts in pencil on yellow tickets and he only accepts cash or checks. His business comes up on a Google map search for “Colorado Springs Shoe Repair,” but other than that, he doesn’t advertise.

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Alexander Belanchuk applies glue to new footwear soles in his Colorado Springs shoe repair shop on August 16, 2022.
Dan Boyce/CPR News
A selection of adjustable shoe “lasts” hangs in Alexander Belanchuk’s shoe repair shop on August 16, 2022.

“My advertising? It’s my skills,” he laughed. 

Shoe repair isn’t the only work that Belanchuk does. Colorado Springs resident and customer Patrick Logue recently picked up a leather satchel that belonged to his father. Logue asked Belanchuk to restore the bag after he worked on a pair of his wife’s boots.

“Those Ugg boots were 20 years old and he brought [them] back to life,” Logue said. 

Belanchuk followed his son out to Denver after moving to and living in Brooklyn, New York, for about 30 years, where he also repaired shoes. He took over the longstanding Bon Shoe Repair shop north of downtown Colorado Springs three years ago. Each day is long. On top of the huge amount of work he has, he still commutes back and forth to the Springs from Denver each day; he and his wife found a home they love near where she works. 

Dan Boyce/CPR News
Alexander Belanchuk took over the longstanding Bon Shoe Repair shop in Colorado Springs in 2019.

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

He hasn’t been able to contact any of them since Russia invaded.

“I don’t have any clue [where they are]; if they survive, if they move, if they stay — no idea,” Belanchuk said. 

Photo courtesy Alexander Belanchuk
In his spare time at the shop, Alexander Belanchuk hammers images (often religious imagery) into sheets of copper.

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

Belanchuk leans heavily on that passion, particularly during this time of war in his home country — one with no end in sight. Maybe he would go back over there to help, he said, if he was a younger man. 

Instead, he watches from afar and keeps busy. 

And he prays for his home country, wrestling with his own good fortune as so many suffer.

“Because we’ve got [a] beautiful nice day. Sunny day. Nice weather. Plenty of food,” Belanchuk said. “What about these people who … people [who don’t] have bread?”