More than 100,000 people have fled Ukraine for Russia this year, the United Nation’s refugee agency reported on Friday. In Plano, though, there’s a church where kids from both countries play side by side in a summer camp.
The children at River of Life Church have been staying busy with summer camp activities, from learning how to play the drums to creating bird houses.
“We built bird houses with the wood. Someone helped us, someone’s dad,” said 8-year-old Timothy Regheta. “And we got to paint them and the birds can sleep in there.”
Timothy’s dad, Leonid Regheta, is the pastor of the non-denominational Plano church, which has members from a dozen Russian-speaking countries. Leonid’s from Ukraine; his wife’s from Russia. He said it’s not easy hearing about the conflict back home.
“Feelings are hurt. Tensions are there and the situation is difficult,” Regheta said. “People are dying after all. So to simply close our eyes and forget, that I think would be impossible.”
What is possible, he said, is encouraging his members to focus on the things they have in common like their faith. He talked about that in a KERA Friday Conversation this past winter.
Konstantin Lyubimov and his family moved to the U.S. from Russia a year ago. He has friends and relatives in Ukraine and his parents live in Russia.
“This situation for me very hard because for my mind, Slavic people, this is same people,” he said. “I pray about Ukraine and about Russia. I pray about peace for both country.”
Lyubimov said the church’s summer camp promotes fellowship among people with very different views. Camp leader Paul Shulga says little of that matters to the kids.
“You know, unless they hear something at home where they have parents that are very involved with the news or politically with their countries, I would say they really don’t distinguish it,” he said.
Shulga, who’s 23, was born and raised in the U.S. His parents are Ukrainian and said he shares something in common with the campers.
“Most of the kids that come are from a Slavic descent,” he said. “Either their mother or father is Russian, one half at least, so they understand the Russian language or the Ukrainian language. But they live in America, so their native language, I would say, is American.”
And they’re all together in the lunchroom, where the scene is pretty all American too. Right down to the Cheez-Its and apple juice.