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Sewing for Ukraine

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Estelle Gray sews Ukraine flags in her Medford home.
Medford couple create flags for war-torn country; proceeds will go to medical supplies to help the people of Ukraine

In a small room inside her Medford home on a dreary Tuesday morning, Estelle Gray lovingly stitched together blue and yellow fabrics to make a flag with her dog, Lucy, at her side.

For Gray, the color scheme was not her choice — it’s the colors of the flag of Ukraine, the European country that has been locked for the past month in a bitter war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“Every time I sew it, I know what I’m sewing for,” said Gray, who has ancestors from Ukraine. “I feel very connected to it. I’ll be sewing and Sal will call me for something, and I really won’t even hear her … because I was so engaged in sewing this flag.”

Gray and a handful of volunteers are stitching many Ukraine flags, which they hope will yield donations from community members who request one. While Gray and her partner, Sal Edwards, will pay for mailing costs to deliver the flags, profits from donations will go to medical supplies to support people living through the bloody Ukraine conflict.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Estelle Gray and Sal Edwards cut fabric to make Ukraine flags in their Medford home.

To date, Edwards and Gray say, they’ve received $1,500 in donations — the largest single donation so far was $500. As the situation stands, that money may go to purchase tourniquets, an item Edwards is told by associates is needed the most right now.

Those associates are with Heart Zones, a Sacramento-based company owned by Edwards and Gray that produces technology designed to engage everyone, from school kids to athletes, in physical fitness.

Edwards, who participates in virtual conference calls every day with her company, received a request for tourniquets from Heart Zones’ software project manager, Yurii Pochapsky.

“He said, ‘We can’t buy it. Europe is totally sold out of emergency medical kits — people in other countries are buying them in the event that this war escalates,’” Edwards recalled Pochapsky saying. “‘You have tourniquets in the United States. Can you buy them and send them to us?’ I said, ‘absolutely.’”

Edwards noted that whether it’s tourniquets or other medical supplies, they won’t be sent directly from the U.S. to Ukraine. Instead, they will head to Poland, which borders the war-torn country led by Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Flyers that Sal Edwards and Estelle Gray are distributing to find more sewing help.

“This war, who knows how long it’s going to last,” a glassy-eyed Edwards said.

The war in Ukraine is at the top of mind for the Medford couple, who say they’ve never been activists and actually view what they’re doing as more humanitarian than political.

“One of my life philosophies is, we’re on the planet to help each other. If we’re not here to help each other, then what are we here for?” Gray said. “If Medford was bombed, I would sure hope all those countries would come to our rescue.”

She noted that while the U.S. so far has not committed troops to Ukraine, that doesn’t mean ordinary Americans can’t help in some way.

“We can do humanitarian things — and that’s not political,” Gray said.

She noted she could use more flag sewers.

“If anyone wants to sew, they can contact us,” Gray said. “Right now, I have 16 sewers and that’s not going to be enough if this (war) keeps growing like it is.”

Edwards talked about the importance of flags, which to her are a symbol of patriotism and love of country.

She noted the sad irony in Ukraine’s accomplishment to gain independence from Russia, only to have the giant country invade and kill thousands of innocent people. And what’s more, Edwards said, Russia’s military might dwarfs Ukraine’s.

“When you see that kind of thing, then let’s fly a flag because they are very brave. They are not going to surrender,” she said.

When the Mail Tribune visited Edwards and Gray Tuesday, they donned blue and yellow shirts and hoodies. That, like the colors Gray was sewing, was no accident, either.

“I think when people go to football games and they’ve got their quarterback’s name emblazoned on their back, and they’re like, ‘Yes, yes, we’re aligned with them,’ that’s the way I feel when I wear this,” said Gray, who was also sporting a homemade Ukraine flag lapel pin. “I feel like, ‘Yes, I’m aligned with Ukraine today.’”

“I tell them over and over again, ‘You’re going to win,’” Edwards said, referring to her Ukrainian colleagues.

How to help

If you want to purchase a homemade flag of Ukraine, become a sewer, or donate money for fabric, see www.ukraineflags.org/.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.