Covid Impact Stories - Aleksandar Manic

Aleksandar, 36, has a Master’s degree in archeology from a
university in Sofia, Bulgaria. After graduating, he underwent training
as a museum curator at the National Museum in Belgrade, and worked a few
years in the city’s museum. But he just couldn’t find peace in the
city, and left his job to return to his hometown. “I started working as a
shepherd because once you spend a day with the sheep in the field, the
peace you feel with them, you can’t stop doing that ever again,” he
says.

Aleksandar Manić, a shepherd in Stara Planina, a natural
border with neighboring Bulgaria, also knows too well the difficulties
of managing animals during curfews. He leads a flock of 500 sheep with
two other shepherds, covering over 20km a day. Until the winter starts,
he should take the sheep out to feed every day.

But whenever
lockdowns are stated, with the border police actively guarding the
fields in the village, he is unable to take the sheep out onto the
field. The less he is able to go out, the less income he can bring home.


Covid Impact Stories - Danilo Pejcic

Danilo Pejcic is one of the young people whose story is
somewhere in-between. He had lived in Dimitrovgrad all his life until
two years ago, when he found a job in a company in Bulgaria which
afforded him a better income.
He regularly travels from
Dimitrovgrad, Serbia to Slivnica, Bulgaria, about 30 kilometers away,
and sometimes stays there for a week or two at the company-provided
accommodation. At least he did, until the pandemic hit and borders
closed. Restrictions prevented him from traveling back and forth,
leaving him unemployed. He is currently without a regular income, now
remaining in Dmitrovgrad and helping around the house. “I hope I can
start working again soon,” he says.
In the meantime, he has taken a
part-time assignment working customs in his city, documenting the train
cars that arrive and sharing them with the agency. The job pays 50 Euro
per day, but it’s only a few times a month. Danilo has become afraid
that he doesn’t have a back-up plan. He was originally hoping to go back
to Bulgaria by the beginning of December, but because the pandemic
situation hasn’t improved, the borders may close again.


Covid Impact Stories

For urban-dwellers, confined in small flats because of
lockdowns, rural living could seem ideal. The green pastures, fresher
air, room to spread out.

But for rural communities, especially farmers and local producers, the restrictions have brought different challenges.

The
Mladenov family live in Dimitrovgrad, one of the least developed
municipalities in southeastern Serbia. They make a living from their
small dairy farm outside town. Until the pandemic hit, Emilija, 37, sold
milk and cheese every morning at their local market in town, and from
their sale she was able to support her 9-year old twins, Juliana and
Jelena.

But things have changed since then: first she and her
husband Aleksander had to stop selling at the market, so they started
going from house to house instead; then, the state of emergency and
curfews meant they could not go out, and even when they could, most
people had stopped ordering home because they did not want to risk
having contact with someone. Teleworking was simply not an option in
their line of business.

As Covid restrictions disrupted the
market, driving down prices, the family was forced to start selling milk
to a local dairy at a much lower amount. “We hope once this period
ends, the price of milk will rise again,” Aleksander says.

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