95-year-old Alexey Korovchenko, a native and present-day resident of the Rozhdestvenskiy farm of Kamensky District, walks one and a half or two kilometers per day, does gymnastics, drives his Niva for shopping, collects and dries medicinal herbs, makes brooms, works at an apiary, and has recently made a boat for fishing on the Don for his grandson Vitaly. In his youth, Alexey Korovchenko made shoes for the whole district and brought a new breed of sheep, for which he was honored with a high Government award. On the eve of Victory Day, the correspondents of RIA Voronezh spent almost a whole day with the veteran, questioned him about the wartime, found out how he lived and what inspired him most.

War in the saddle

There are very few war veterans now, and those who are still alive, fought for half a year or a month and a half. Alexey Korovchenko, who will turn 96 in August, went to the front in 1941 and returned home in 1947. He has the Order of the Patriotic War and the medal “For the Victory over Japan.”

Aleksey Korovchenko doesn’t like to recollect about the war too much. He says: “I don’t remember any special feats, I shot like everyone else, ran into the attack ...”.

His parents Ilya Kuzmich and Anisya Pavlovna were among the founders of the Rozhdestvensky farm. They moved here from the neighboring village of Marki – closer to the Don – and were among the first to enter the newly created collective farm “Silent Don”. Alexey graduated from elementary school in the farm, and then ran every day 7 km barefoot for to the Markov eight-year school and back. They had no snow boots in the winter, and covered their feet with rags.

Alexey’s mother Anisya, brother and sisters 

– I studied for six years and started working at a collective farm, the veteran recalled. – Aged 15, I worked as a herdsman. I remember on June 22, 1941 – a horseman from Marki where there was a radio arrived. “War, war!” he shouted. My father went to the front in the autumn, and I was called in December 1941. I rushed to the front, but I ended up in the Far East. All of us, 150 people, lined up and the colonel chose only two of us – me and another man – to join the destructive troop. They sent us to learn Morse code, parachute jumps – now I understand: they were preparing saboteurs, but during the health check I didn’t blow the necessary amount of the air into the tube, and was sent to study again. I asked to go to the front twice, and the commander kept saying to me: “Sit down, snot, you will have time to fight”. Later, as I was a village boy who knew horses, they took me as an orderly of the chief of staff of a rifle brigade, where there were 10 thousand bayonets. I had to prepare a horse for him, ride beside him.

It is not forbidden to sew beautifully!

Alexey’s father was wounded in the Crimea at that time, he was captured and taken to work in Germany – to Dresden, from where he was released in 1945 by the Americans. And when Ilya Kuzmich returned home, he was sent to rebuild the mines in the Donbas.

In his native Rozhdestvenskoye in 1942, the Magyars settled. They expelled people out of their huts, and the house of the Korovchenko family (there were eight children there) was dismantled for building dugouts on the banks of the Don.

– I was afraid that the war would end, and I wouldn’t even have time to fight, Alexey Korovchenko recalled. – I was already preparing to shoot in 1943, when we were alarmed – it turned out that the Japanese had crossed the border near Ussuriisk. I thought I could fight, but no way – while we were moving, the frontier guards repelled the attack of the enemy. After the capitulation of Germany, I managed to fight a bit – in August 1945, the war with Japan began, we received rifles, and our unit participated in the capture of the city of Mudanjiang in northeastern China.

After the defeat of Japan, Alexey was still in the army. At the time in Vladivostok, soldiers who were preparing for the demobilization were taught civilian professions – Korovchenko decided to become a shoemaker. Once, I made boots with a lining of fox fur for Major Sukhushin, he did not take them off for the whole winter. The general saw them, wondered if it was cold, the major showed the inside. The general ordered to make him the same, and it all started. Before my demobilization in 1947, Alexey made boots for officers, boots and fashion shoes for their wives, fur coats, sheepskin coats and many other items. When I returned home, I brought 30 different boot trees with me and I made shoes for the whole neighborhood for the first five years, but later shoes began to appear in stores. The house still keeps the slippers that Alexey made for his wife Maria about 30 years ago.

With his wife Maria, children and mother-in-law Varvara

Alexey and Maria were familiar from school, got married in 1947. My wife died in 2001 — she worked as a mail carrier, once she fell off her bicycle, the wheel broke her three ribs. Maria Stepanovna was ill for a long time and did manage to recover. Today, the elderly man has three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The veteran’s youngest daughter Valentina with her son Vitaly were in the farm on the day when the journalists of RIA “Voronezh” were visiting Rozhdestvensky farm – they were planting potatoes in the huge allotment.

– For the last few years, my dad has been wintering in Pavlovsk in our place, Valentina said, – but in April we bring him home. In principle, he does everything himself, however, he has lost his strength a bit. 

Alexey Korovchenko’s grandson Vitaly is a fisherman. A few years ago, the elderly man made a real boat with his own hands for his grandson, which is kept in the yard in the winter, and taken out to the Don river in the summer.

In his native farm, Alexey has been breeding sheep all his life – in the mid-1960s the collective farm bought three breeding rams in England, and several years later, by means of painstaking selection, a new breed of sheep for the central part of Russia was bred with semi-thin wool.

– For three years, I spent days in the sheep farm, the veteran recalled. – The breeding was in full swing, we had to inseminate about a thousand sheep during that time, until we saw some success. In 1971, in Liski, the then first secretary of the CPSU Regional Committee Vitaly Vorotnikov awarded me with the Order of the October Revolution. At the time, there were sheep in every yard, we also had about two dozen – we clipped them ourselves and every year we gave 30-35 kg of wool to the state.

Get ready for exercise!

Alexey still keeps the war signs, for example, rusty German barbed wire that supports the fence.

– There were so many mines and shells here after the war! – Alexey Korovchenko exclaims. – Once the younger guys found a shell and took it on a cart somewhere, the older ones grabbed it and took it to the bank of the Don. They started to set fire, it exploded. The one guy just disappeared, and the second one, who stood a little farther away, was simply cut in half!

Despite his age, the pensioner carries himself as a young man. The secrets of his longevity are the daily hour walks around the neighborhood. Every morning, the veteran lies down on the floor, raises his legs vertically to the wall and lays for 10 minutes – and my feet feel better for the whole day, the joints do not bother me.

– I’m an old herbalist, collecting herbs around the area and drinking tea with decoctions, added Alexey Korovchenko. – I even write poems about the benefits of herbs and vegetables:

Mint treats neuralgia,

Beets are from hypertension.

Strawberries eliminate salt,

And sage saves from toothache ...

Another three passions of Alexey Korovchenko are bees, brooms and cars.

He used to have up to fifty beehives, now he has only 20, but all were made by hand. Moreover, the veteran makes beehives for the whole district, even to officials from the district center.

When the journalists from Voronezh visited Rozhdestvenskoye, Aleksey was repairing one of the beehives using a chisel and an ax made by a collective-farm blacksmith in Soviet times.

– This is a chisel made of tractor parts, and to fix the ax to the butt, parts of an ordinary village grass cutter are specially welded. Such an ax at work “sticks” to a tree, and does not rebound from it, as often happens with factory work tools, the veteran explained.

Making brooms does not belong to the local traditions, the center of this craft is geographically closer to Liski. However, Korovchenko planted sorghum himself and for the season (August – October) produces 30-40 brooms. He sells and distributes them – for example, he has recently gave 15 brooms to the Pavlovsk Hospital for war veterans, where he is treated every year.

The third passion of the pensioner is in his garage – this is Niva. The veteran used to drive his “kopeck”, and six years ago, he bought a brand new SUV.

– I love to watch boxing, I like “Let’s Get Married” program, how the brides and grooms choose each other in a funny way! However, I do not always have time for watching TV, as every minute of my day is planned, the pensioner admitted.

The astronaut from the province

The correspondents of RIA Voronezh together with Alexey Ilyich walked around the neighborhood, climbed the hill to the tiny cemetery where the veteran’s father and several other relatives are buried.

– I will definitely lie down next to them. My wife died in Pavlovsk, when my daughter was visiting. They buried her there. And I want to go closer to Bate and to my cousins, judged Alexey Korovchenko.

From the hill near the man’s courtyard, an ambulance silhouette appeared – several times a year, doctors come to the war veteran to ask about his health, measure his pressure, listen to his heart beating.

This time, Anatoly Kozyrev, a general practitioner from the Markov Medical Ambulance Station, visited the man.

– How are you doing, Ilyich? – asked the doctor. – You are the only one in the district born in 1923 who has remained.

– I’m fine, ready to go to the outer space, the veteran said cheerfully.

The tonometer showed 130/70. And this was after our half-hour walk through the surrounding hills!

On May 9, Aleksey Ilyich will surely put on his ceremonial jacket with orders and medals and, possibly, drink 50 g. He has never liked alcohol, but everything is allowed on such a day.