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Sacramento's dense population of Ukrainian immigrants are sending help back home

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sacramento, Calif., has one of the largest populations of recently arrived Ukrainian immigrants in the United States, and they are reeling from the news about their homeland. CapRadio's Pauline Bartolone reports on how their religious faith fuels the support they send back home.

DINA SAMODAROV: OK, yours. OK, put it on.

PAULINE BARTOLONE, BYLINE: All this week, Dina Samodarov has been connecting people with charities working in Ukraine. And on this day, she's doing it while watching her nephews.

SAMODAROV: People have been calling me all morning today, you know, trying to help their relatives up there. And because I did announcement in our church on Sunday that I can connect, and I can help, they're all calling now.

BARTOLONE: But Samodarov has an even harder task today. She's putting her parents on a plane to Poland, so they can retrieve their 2-year-old grandson. He's in northwestern Ukraine right now, and they want to bring him back to the United States.

SAMODAROV: We're planning to get him out of the war zone, into Poland. And then we're going to ask for refugee status, maybe so that we can bring him here.

BARTOLONE: Samodarov's father, Volodymyr Androshchuk, is 65 and disabled. Despite the extreme risk, he plans to stay in Ukraine after rescuing his grandson. He wants to help with the humanitarian crisis. I asked him, through Dina, what moves her dad to do this.

VOLODYMYR ANDROSHCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

SAMODAROV: He's saying, "I have to be there where it's very bad for people because that's where the need is. If the need was here in America, I would stay here and help."

ANDROSHCHUK: (Non-English language spoken).

SAMODAROV: "Wherever there is a need or hard to breathe for people, as Christian, I want to be there."

BARTOLONE: Samodarov and her father, along with many Ukrainian Christians in Sacramento, came here as refugees because of the religious persecution they experienced under the Soviet Union. Now their churches are at the center of their response to the war.

VADIM DASHKEVYCH: We believe as a Christian, religious people, the prayer - that's the most powerful weapon that we can have in the world.

BARTOLONE: Vadim Dashkevych is a pastor for the suburban Spring of Life Baptist Church. His congregation hosted this prayer breakfast that California politicians attended.

DASHKEVYCH: The Bible tells us a lot of stories that God did a big work inside very tough situations.

BARTOLONE: Spring of Life and other Ukrainian Baptists in the area are also raising funds and providing emotional support for their loved ones back home.

NADIA VAVRYNYUK: (Non-English language spoken).

BARTOLONE: Sixty-seven-year-old Nadia Vavrynyuk also came to the U.S. as a refugee. She says being a Christian in western Ukraine prevented her from getting a higher education during Soviet rule. Her late husband's family and friends are still there.

VAVRYNYUK: (Non-English language spoken).

DIANA SINITSA: "We are constantly on the phone with them."

BARTOLONE: Her granddaughter, Diana Sinitsa, translates for her.

VAVRYNYUK: (Non-English language spoken).

SINITSA: "We're obviously very worried. We continue to pray. But the situation is so crazy. There's nothing we can really do."

VAVRYNYUK: (Non-English language spoken).

SINITSA: "I hear them crying. I cry with them. And the situation just absolutely does not leave my mind at all. I think about it 24-7."

BARTOLONE: Vavrynyuk says her relatives wouldn't come to the U.S. right now because they don't want to leave behind family members joining the war. Through her tears, she says she would love for them to come to the U.S. so they can be as safe as she is today.

For NPR News, I'm Pauline Bartolone in Sacramento.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.