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Ukrainian shoemaker survived a heavy explosion of an Explosive Ordnance left in a bin

The war in Ukraine completely changed the life of Taras*. His shoe factory was hit by a missile, and he was injured due to an explosion of an Explosive Ordnance (EO) in a dumpster by his home. His story is a brisk reminder that the mundane life of civilians in Ukraine will be affected by the threat of EO for years to come.

DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2023, Volodymyr Cheppel.

Posted on 28 Apr 2023

Written by Volodymyr Malynka

It is an ordinary apartment building in Chernihiv city not far from the brewery brewing “Chernihivske” beer widely known in Ukraine. I meet Taras, 48, on the street and he guides me to his apartment on the third floor. “This is Mozart”, Taras introduces his black and red cat. “He always mews.”

Taras wears one glove, he is thin, and it seems as if he is looking right through me. Before 24 February 2022, when the Russian Federation started the military offensive against Ukraine, he owned a shoe factory. About 30 people—seamstresses, cutters, shoemakers—created thousands of different boots every month.

Taras started making shoes in 1997. That year, an acquaintance advised him to come to the shoe factory and see if that would be an interesting job for him. Unexpectedly, he liked it and found a job for years to come. In 2021, the owner of the business lost interest in the shoe factory and Taras took over leadership. Continuing to make shoes on his own, he also found customers, resellers, and visited shoe exhibitions in Kyiv where he found lots of new clients.

“At one of the exhibitions, the businesspeople from Germany and Poland were surprised to see such quality shoes made in Ukraine. “Maybe Ukrainians finally learned how to create good shoes,” they said in amazement,” describes Taras his first steps as a businessman. Sales went well and he found sales chains in big Ukrainian cities that ordered thousands of different kinds of shoes. At the start, the factory produced men's boots but soon started producing shoes for women as well.

“Probably, we were the first manufacturer in Chernihiv that started producing shoes for women. The most expensive pair cost about 1,000 Euros,” says Taras. The last order was from Odesa, a big port city in the Ukrainian south, where the company requested 10,000 boots from Taras’s manufactory. Another customer recently called Taras and wanted to order more boots. “A missile hit the premises of the factory — I told him, but he did not want to believe”.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2023, Volodymyr Cheppel.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2023, Volodymyr Cheppel.

Fragmentation shell in a trashcan

A missile hit the factory in March 2022. People did not work there at that moment, so nobody was injured. When Taras heard about the attack, he went to the place and saw only two walls were left of the premises he had worked in for dozens of years. All the shoes had burnt, all the machinery destroyed, the manufactory was all gone.

“I had been staying in a city ever since 24 February 2022. I did not leave it,” says Taras. A long loud signal of the air raid alarm interrupts the interview and I ask Taras and his son Danylo*, 25, what they do when they hear it.

“Nothing,” says Danylo. “This is an old building and there is no basement. The nearest shelter is one kilometre away, so we do not do anything”.

I understood this reaction after I heard about the experience they had. In spring 2022, his house had been hit by a cluster munition carrier. All the windows were damaged. Danylo shows a photo of a large carrier sticking out of the ground near their house that had opened, with sub-munitions the size and shape of Coca-Cola cans lying around.

Danylo says that after the State Emergency Service briefly checked the place and took the EO away, he and dad decided to clean up the yard a little bit of the damaged windows and roof – signs of recent shelling. They collected those pieces into bags and threw them into a bin near the house. When Danylo threw a bag, nothing happened, but when his father did, the bin exploded – one of the sub-munitions was still left inside.

“I went behind the fence and suddenly saw a cloud of dust and a part of the bin flying into me. I bent down and then realised my father was laying on the ground”, says Danylo.

Taras was blown away for about five meters and his body—especially his head and arms—was riddled with fragmentation. “My face was fully black, burnt even. I could not see and had a concussion,” says Taras. Danylo tried to help him and later an employee from the brewery put a tourniquet on Taras’s left arm.

An ambulance did not want to come because they were afraid of possible landmines in that area. Only after the police agreed to go with them, did they come and transport Taras to a Chernihiv hospital. The surgery on his eyes started immediately but local doctors did not know what to do with his left arm for a week. “They just came to me from time to time and discussed whether they need to amputate it or not”, says Taras.

Taras shows a pair of shoes that he crafted for personal use.©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2023, Volodymyr Cheppel.

Taras shows a pair of shoes that he crafted for personal use. ©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2023, Volodymyr Cheppel.

An attempt to save the arm

Danylo recalls that after Taras’s incident, the State Emergency Service had inspected the territory of their apartment block four times and every time they had found more sub-munitions around. One of them was laying on the roof.

Taras was advised to go to Kyiv to have additional surgeries. In Kyiv, doctors decided to rescue Taras’s arm and conducted various operations. Despite the medical services being covered by the state, Taras had to pay for medicine, implants needed for the surgeries, and the Ilizarov apparatus. DRC helped cover these costs.  

Taras’s arm was literally put together from other parts of his body. He says that the surgeons even used a part of the pelvic bone, transplanted into the arm. “They filmed the entire operation to show it to the interns,” adds Taras.

Currently, he can only partially see on one eye and the fingers on his left hand cannot bend. "Very small shards keep coming out of my face when I wash it. The doctors said this was normal. It is my body rejecting foreign objects," Taras explains.

He lives with his son who looks after him. Because of his disability and the need for further surgeries and rehabilitation, he cannot find a job. As long as his son works as a builder and has orders in Chernihiv, they have enough money to live. However, Taras dreams of resuming his business which he lost because of the war. "I have even found a place for a new factory," he adds.

DRC Ukraine has a programme to help businesses affected by the war where Taras plans to apply for a grant. If the application is approved, Taras will receive the grant he needs to resume his shoe production — a business of his life.

Support provided to Taras is possible thanks to funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. DRC’s Victim Assistance Programme is supported as well through means donated by private foundations and individuals primarily in Denmark.             

 

*Names were changed for confidentiality purposes.  

 

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