Philadelphia summer camp provides happiness, hope for Ukrainian refugee children

The summer camp at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia is a welcome reprieve from the war the children fled.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Thursday, August 4, 2022
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The children participate in activities such as robotics, art therapy and sport.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, refugees are adjusting to their new lives in the U.S.

More than 3,000 Ukrainian refugees have re-settled in Northeast Philadelphia. That's where a newly-created summer camp is having a positive impact. It's also where 15-year-old Solomiya Oros is getting plenty of practice speaking Ukrainian.

"I do speak Ukrainian, but it is definitely getting better because I have to speak it more on a daily basis," said Oros, whose parents are from Ukraine. She now works as a helper at the camp, which is filled with children who are refugees from Ukraine.

The summer camp at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia is a welcome reprieve from the war they fled.

"They forget about everything that's going on in Ukraine and they play here and enjoy their time," said camp Athletic Director Mariya Reymyen, who was a track and field Olympic medalist for her home country of Ukraine.

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

"Lo and behold, we have almost 50 children, we raised about $90,000 from the community," said Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife and a native of Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv.

The camp and the support it garnered are part of the Grow Hope program which is now beginning a major fundraising campaign. Originally, the fundraising and camp grew by word of mouth with the Jewish Foundation of Greater Philadelphia among its biggest supporters.

"We're asking everyone in the community to rally with us to support these children," said Brian Gralnick, director of local grants and partnerships with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

At camp, the kids are broken up into two groups: ages 5-9 and ages 10-12. The children participate in activities such as robotics, art therapy and sport.

"I'm trying to give my love to them," said Reymyen of her job as athletic director. "I'm trying to support them. We just pray that everything will be good."

Reymyen still has family in Ukraine and checks on them daily. All of the people who work with the camp speak Ukrainian and/or Russian. In their language, many of the kids often speak of home.

"I want to fly to my home," said Sonia as she took a break from basketball.

Even though they're missing home, the kids find hope. On Thursday, they received encouragement from several Holocaust survivors who were present as the Grow Hope fundraising campaign was announced.

"It's terrible, terrible," said 85-year-old Rita Shekhtman, who is a Holocaust survivor. Through a translator, she said that seeing children fleeing the bombing of Ukrainian villages reminds her of what she went through.

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

"We all believe that everything will be good," said Reymyen. "We still believe in this."

For more information on supporting the Grow Hope program, click here: https://kleinlife.org/growhope/