AP PHOTOS: Russians keep alive winter boots tradition

MOSCOW (AP) — As freezing temperatures are setting in, Russians are rediscovering an old winter staple — felt boots called valenki.

Valenki are traditional winter footwear in Russia, prized for their ability to endure frosty conditions and a dry winter, which is typical for most of the country.

Dating back to the times of nomads in the windy steppes of southern Russia, valenki didn't become widespread until the 19th century, when they started being produced on an industrial scale. They were quickly adopted by all classes and everyone wore wearing valenki — from the czar to the peasant in the most remote village.

The felt boots, however, went out of fashion in the 1950s, when Russians got wider access to warm, Western-style footwear.

These days, Russians still wear valenki on trips in the countryside, and one can spot a pair of "designer valenki" on a cold day in Moscow. The Russian military and law enforcement personnel still get them as part of their standard gear.

A recent exhibition in the Russian capital displayed historical footwear, like the valenki worn by Marshal Georgy Zhukov as he led Soviet forces throughout World War II, as well as the boots as cutting-edge fashion items.