By Andrew Haubner

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Sacramento contains the biggest expat community of Ukrainians in the United States. With the country’s war with Russia passing its 100th day, one local church is helping children touched by war find a smile again.

There were flash mobs and fun. Children laughed and joked while playing duck-duck-goose and singing to Ukrainian music. For a small moment, the experiences that brought them to the United States melted away in the California sun. And for a moment those children, displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, were all smiles.

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“We want to, especially for the kids, bring as much goodness, joy and love as we can,” Sergiy Pastushak, a pastor at Spring of Life Church in Orangevale, explained.

The church has been a cornerstone in the capital region’s Ukrainian-American community for a long time and has operated its camps for years. On this June afternoon, nearly 200 school-aged children arrived at McClellan Park for a chance to meet others that shared a common story.

“Some of them [arrived] from the front line who just came a couple of weeks ago,” said Erik Latkovskyi, one of the coordinators of the camp.

Latkovskyi arrived in the United States himself as a teenager. Most of the staff and leads at the camp are either freshly immigrated or first-generation Ukrainian-Americans. Oleksiy Dashkevych is the son of one of the church pastors.

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“They need that extra support from us. And we help each other, we’re from the same country after all,” he said.

Kids danced, played sports, and even learned some English. Latkovskyi explained that some of the discussions with the kids would be about re-acclimating to life outside of a war zone and working with the traumas. Some of the camp staff are war refugees themselves, fleeing from areas annexed by Russia during their initial invasion in 2014. More importantly, he said, this particular camp is about giving children who have come to a foreign land with no home a place that feels somewhat familiar.

“We can give them peace here, we can tell them you are safe here and you can have fun,” Latkovskyi said.

As the war progresses past its’ 100th day, Russian advances have met fierce resistance in critical cities like Severodonetsk and Mykolaiv. Within the camp, there aren’t even one or two degrees of separation from someone who is still at home or actively fighting the Russian army. Despite being stateside, everyone involved feels pride, as they have every day of their lives, to be Ukrainian. And their faith that they will survive is as resolute as ever.

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“I believe and I know that Kherson and Donbas and Luhansk, it will be back on the Ukraine side,” Latkovskyi said. “I understand it’s far away from us but we do as much as we can. Just to keep [reminding] people that war is still happening.”

Andrew Haubner