Solution 13:04 01 Feb 2023

“Cats”, “hakes,” and “hedgehogs”: Transcarpathian sculptors helping the Armed Forces

Rubryka spoke with seven artists who have transformed their workshops toward military production.

What is the problem?

As it was for many, the full-scale war began with shock for artists in Transcarpathia, the most western region of Ukraine.. With a great desire to keep invaders from taking over their home, many went to the military commissariat, but those who did not have a military specialty were left in reserve. However, a group of seven artists decided to find a different way to help Ukraine forge its victory in their metal workshop near Uzhhorod.

What is the solution?

The desire to be helpful to Ukraine's armed forces was so strong that the artists found work for themselves. Since then, the atelier where they had produced creative works has transformed to produce metal products that the military needs. Artists are constantly working to invent and improve new useful devices to assist Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines.

How does it work?

From sculptural symposia to military production

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The creative team of the military-artistic association "Shpor"

It all started in 2007, in the city of Perechyn, in the Transcarpathia region. Three metal artists, Oleg Putrashyk, Yan Potrogosh, and Anatolii Kryvanych, who had been friends since their student years, took out a loan to buy a workshop that would later become their "mini-factory." Over time, four more creators from Uzhhorod and Kyiv joined them. The group worked to get the workshop in order, furnishing it with the necessary equipment, and naming it "Three Ivans," later, "Sklad," and already during the war — into the military-artistic association "Shpor."

Before russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the workshop hosted lectures, symposia, and master classes for sculptors, architects, and students from Ukraine and abroad.

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Oleg Putrashyk's work

Perechyn combat "zoo": "hedgehogs," "cats," and "hakes"

The full-scale war brought new and urgent needs that radically changed the creative space's work. The first products produced for the country's defense were anti-tank devices. To counter russian troops threatening to overtake Ukrainian cities, there was a great need for angled metal beams, known as "hedgehogs," which could be placed on roads as obstacles to stymie the advance of encroaching tank columns.  Without deliberating, the group made a Facebook post to raise funds, and reconfigured their machines to start making hedgehogs with the funds they managed to collect literally in a day. After a week, they also began to repair anti-tank devices for the military.

The hedgehog's task is to puncture and deflate a vehicle's tire. At first glance, the Perechyn hedgehogs have a peculiarity — instead of being made from fittings that could "plug" a puncture in a wheel, they use an empty tube through which air freely escapes – making it more effective than the traditional model of the anti-tank device.скульптори ШпорAnti-tank "hedgehogs"One of the craftsmen, Andrii Stegura, recalls times when they made 300-400 hedgehogs and sent them on the same day. They got to know the volunteers engaged in supplying the front and gave devices to the Perechyn Territorial Defense and military commissariat, producing them until they were no longer needed. Then, they set about producing "cats" and "hakes" — devices for demining. A specialist  instructor who came to Perechyn to teach new recruits to become demining "sappers" told the artists about them and how they work. Sappers grab an anti-tank mine with a "cat" and pull it to a safe are. "Hake" is used to neutralize tripwires. It is tied to a long string and thrown for about 30 m, combing the surface and eliminating the tripwires without getting stuck in the roots. The device was made collapsible and thin so that it could be hidden in a pocket.

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"Cats" and "Hakes"

All spring, the artists say they worked "on bare enthusiasm" around the clock, practically living inside their workshop. Andrii recalls that the materials were purchased using donations. Artists were very motivated by the photos and reviews the fighters sent from their fighting positions.

Stoves for warriors — "Shporyk," "Fras," "Kotska," and "Tsytska"

Soldiers at the front are in constant need of more stove, relying on them for cooking, heating food, drying clothes, and, most importantly, keeping warm in cold weather. Today, many volunteers work to produce stoves in Ukraine, but the stoves from "Shpor" are unique — they are light, mobile devices for cooking and heating, which can be quickly assembled, easily moved from place to place, and even put in a pocket (It's not a coincidence that "Shpor" is a local word for a stove in Transcarpathia).

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16 "Shpor" stoves ready for shipment

Yan Potrogosh designed the Shpor stove in the first days following invasion, and today this stove has become a signature product of the military-artistic association. Weighing just over 10 kilograms, the portable stove has two chambers and an exhaust pipe and can be used both indoors and outdoors, easily moved even while hot using special handles, and can be quickly disassembled if needed — making it an ideal stove for military field conditions. It can also be helpful to civilians who do not have heating.

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Portable rocket stove "Fras"

But this portable stove isn't Shpor's only solution for heating at the front line. Anatolii Kryvanych came up with the "rocket stove" —  weighing just three kilograms and suitable for cooking food outdoors. The rocket stove is very efficient, has an extensive draft, and can run on any type of wood, even twigs found in forest areas.

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Another invention — the collapsible rocket stove "Gazda"

The artists did not stop there. They took up making collapsible pocket "survival" stoves. First, they designed a model called "Kotska" — inspired by the design of a German model of pocket stove. When they could not acquire the copyright, they redesigned their own. 

"Of course, we were upset," recalls Andrii Stegura, "but not for long." The next day, our invention was born — the "Tsytska" pocket stove. A few hours passed from computer development to cutting. The stove turned out even better than the German one, and besides, it is beautiful because for us, artists, the aesthetic component is very important."

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Pocket stove "Tsytska"

The "Tsytska" is a survival stove, but is very stable and convenient. Made of stainless steel, weighs only 125 g, and the disassembled size is 100x120x10mm. It can be ignited using pinecones and wood chips and can be used for cooking, heating food, and making tea or coffee. 

Shpor tries to name its products with humorous worldplay in Ukrainian. "Humor is as important as fire," notes Andrii Stegura, one of the creators. "It's not just about warmth, it's also about hope. When there is a fire, there are plans for the future. So is laughter. If the soldier is laughing — everything is on point."

Did they really succeed?

Throughout eight months of war, the group of artists from Perechyn have made about four thousand "hedgehogs" and more than two thousand "cats" of five different sizes and models. They sent 241 stoves, and more than 100 units of the Fras and Tsytska each to the front.

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The Tsytska, Kotska and Fras at work." They really are very powerful," said a soldier from the front line.

The artisans continue to volunteer and take orders, selling their own products at cost price. Regular citizens help the producers with donations, and Nova Poshta (one of Ukraine's most popular postal services —ed.) gives discounts on priority shipping. This is how Ukrainians are helping each other in bringing the victory closer.

Although there is little time left to create art objects, Shpor's craftsmen haven't forgotten  about creativity. In the summer 2022, the artists held an art symposium, seminar and exhibition in collaboration with Czech artists in Prague.

"In general, the project "Shpor" is our art during the war because what we do is truly a work of art and our present-day realization as artists," Andrii Stegura shares.

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Although the war disrupted their plans for their career as artists, the group feels they have found their calling in this new vocation. "This is probably the best thing that could have happened to us during the war. This is a challenge for creativity, but the main thing now is to support the army," Andrii Stegura adds.

The artists believe that Shpor will be needed even after the war. "The project can be modernized to find its place during Ukraine's reconstruction," Andrii Stegura explains.

Even more helpful solutions!

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One of the innovations of the Shpor workshop is engraving donors names onto products as a sign of gratitude. For those donors who sent a significant amount of money, which was enough for an entire stove, or about $54, the artists engrave their names onto the stove.

"It was a perfect move, and people were happy that their stove was warming someone at the front," one of the artists told Rubryka.

Readers who wish to support Shpor to produce helpful things for the Armed Forces can text the creative association on Facebook.


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