Tetiana Shkirdan Sewed Face Masks Early In The Pandemic. Now, She’s Making Ukrainian Flags To Support Her Home Country – Block Club Chicago

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Tetiana Shkirdan has only slept a few hours a night for the past two weeks.

The Ukrainian Village resident has lived in Chicago for more than a decade. She moved to the United States from Vatutine in central Ukraine, where her parents and grandmother still live.

Shkirdan grew increasingly concerned in the past few months as Russian troops amassed at the Ukrainian border, threatening to invade. When a friend texted her Feb. 23, saying, “Russia is shooting,” Shkirdan was in shock and overcome with worry for her family, she said.

“My hands started shaking. I probably went pale,” Shkirdan said.

A week after the war began, Shkirdan had an idea for how to raise more money for Ukraine: She could sew blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and sell them, donating the proceeds.

Shkirdan said she’s made about 35 flags so far, donating more than $700 to a group coordinating gear for Ukrainian soldiers.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Tetiana Shkirdan sews dozens of Ukrainian flags to raise money amid the Russian invasion on March 10, 2022.

After the invasion started, Shkirdan immediately called her brother in a suburb of Kyiv. She found him packing, getting ready to leave the city and head south to their hometown. Then, she called her parents, who were sleeping, and broke the news to them that Ukraine was under attack.

Shkirdan’s life now is a whirlwind of phone calls and text messages between Chicago and Ukraine. She said she’s constantly watching the news for any update about how things are going.

“Before I go to bed, it’s a must, I need to hear back from my family. … I asked my mom, ‘Call me as soon as you wake up, or text me.’ If they don’t, I’m already panicking. Midnight, that’s the latest I wait for me to call them,” Shkirdan said.

Eager to do her part, Shkirdan, who works in sales at a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Chicago, started donating money to relief efforts. But she said she could only do so much on her salary. She’s also considered going back to Ukraine, but her family talked her out of it.

That’s when she decided to put her sewing skills to use.

“I have a sewing machine. Let me do this. Let me try to do this,” she said. “I posted on Instagram, ‘Guys, who need it?’ And immediately I started having so many text messages, ‘I need one. I need one. I need one,’ I was like, perfect.”

Shkirdan sells 5-foot flags for $50 and 4-foot flags for $40. She spends late nights sitting up at her sewing machine with her dog, Zoey, stitching together blue and yellow fabric while watching the news.

“That something’s I was able to come up [with] to at least help something, and hopefully I will have more people who will be ordering them,” she said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Completed Ukrainian flags and pieces of cloth sit where Tetiana Shkirdan sews dozens of Ukrainian flags to raise money amid the Russian invasion on March 10, 2022.

This isn’t the first time Shkirdan has used her sewing machine to help those in need.

“When pandemic started, I saw a lot of people making masks for donations. I was like, ‘Great, let me do that.’ So because all the stores were closed, you couldn’t really get fabric. So I asked a few people like in neighborhood, on the community pages, like ‘Hey, guys, do you have any fabric? I’m ready to make masks.’ So a lot of people donated fabric,” she said.

Shkirdan then connected with a group called Sewing Masks For A Safe Chicago, which said it donated more than 120,000 masks to city workers and hospitals.

At Shkirdan’s peak in spring 2020, she was sewing about 600 masks a week, she said.

“From 9 a.m. ’til probably sometimes 10, 11, 12 p.m., all day long, I was just sewing and eating,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, a lot of people stayed at home, and my job allowed me. So, some people were doing some remodeling in the houses — I was making masks.”

Two years later, Shkirdan is back at her sewing machine every day and plans to stay there until the war ends. As soon as that happens, she’ll be on the first plane to Ukraine to visit her family, she siad.

In the meantime, she sees Russia’s invasion as history repeating itself, especially for her 86-year-old grandmother.

“My grandma, she was a kid when it was World War II. And she’s like, ‘I already survived this,’” Shkirdan said.

“I was like, this is crazy. We were in war with Russians, back to back, we were together against Germany. And now Germany is helping Ukrainians. This is like, unbelievable. The world is upside down. So for me, I wish I could do more.”

Anyone interested in buying a Ukrainian flag from Shkirdan can message her on Facebook or Instagram.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ukrainian news plays on the TV where Tetiana Shkirdan sews dozens of Ukrainian flags to raise money amid the Russian invasion on March 10, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Tetiana Shkirdan shows the receipts of how the funds that were raised by her sewing dozens of Ukrainian flags were used amid the Russian invasion on March 10, 2022.

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