Philadelphia summer camp provides happiness, hope for Ukrainian refugee children

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — As the war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, the refugees are adjusting to their new lives in the US

More than 3,000 Ukrainian refugees have resettled in northeast Philadelphia. A newly created summer camp is having a positive impact here. This is also where 15-year-old Solomiya Oros gets a lot of practice in speaking Ukrainian.

“I speak Ukrainian, but it’s definitely getting better because I have to speak it more every day,” said Oros, whose parents are from Ukraine. She now works as a helper in the camp, which is full of children who fled Ukraine.

The summer camp at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia is a welcome respite from the war they were fleeing.

“I think it’s a good game,” said 11-year-old Sonia.

“They forget everything that’s going on in Ukraine and they play here and enjoy their time,” said Mariya Reymyen, the camp’s sports director, who was the track and field medalist for her home country Ukraine.

The free camp began earlier this summer when a mother who fled Ukraine came to KlienLife inquiring about programs for her two children.

“Look, we have almost 50 kids, we raised about $90,000 from the community,” said Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife and a native of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city.

The camp and the support it generates are part of the “Grow Hope” program, which is now starting a major fundraiser. Initially, fundraising and camp grew through word of mouth, with the Jewish Foundation of Greater Philadelphia being among its biggest supporters.

“We are asking everyone in the community to gather with us to support these children,” said Brian Gralnick, director of local grants and partnerships at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

At the camp, the children are divided into two groups: 5-9 years and 10-12 years. The children participate in activities such as robotics, art therapy and sports.

“I try to give them my love,” Reymyen said of her job as sporting director. “I try to support them. We just pray that everything will be fine.”

Reymyen still has family in Ukraine and checks on them every day. All camp staff speak Ukrainian and/or Russian. Many of the children often speak of home in their own language.

“I want to fly to my house,” Sonia said while taking a basketball break.

Despite missing home, the children find hope. On Thursday, they received encouragement from several Holocaust survivors who were present when the Grow Hope fundraising campaign was announced.

“It’s awful, awful,” said 85-year-old Rita Shekhtman, a Holocaust survivor. Through a translator, she said that seeing children fleeing the bombing of Ukrainian villages reminded her of what she went through.

Still, with programs like the camp, there is hope that peace prevails.

“We all believe that everything will be fine,” said Reymyen. “We still believe in it.”

For more information on supporting the Grow Hope program, visit:

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