Vadym Fedorov often wakes up thinking he’s in the battlefield, only to realize that he’s surrounded by peaceful friends and family, not soldiers.
The 30-year-old Ukrainian commanding officer first served on the front lines of combat of Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2013. When Russia invaded the country back in February 2022, it wasn’t a new role for him to step up and serve his country.
“When you go to the front lines, you start to understand why you’re there, and what’s required of you, and why you do what you do when protecting your homeland,” said Fedorov, who soon ended up having both legs amputated following several combat wounds. He was only five feet away from cover when Russian forces opened fire on him, but managed to help guide the rest of his unit to safety. Mykola Sarazhynskyy helped translate his thoughts as he spoke in Ukrainian.
Federov was one of thousands of Ukrainians and their supporters who made their way to the Capitol lawn Friday in celebration of Ukrainian Independence Day. Hosted by Ukrainian American House, a Rancho Cordova-based organization dedicated to supporting the Ukrainian community in the capital region and around the world, the event featured various performances and art exhibits honoring the decades-long struggle of Ukrainians against Russian influence.
The mood in the air was joyful, and several attendees stood underneath the blazing sun cloaked in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. Still, the ongoing war continues to cast shadows on a hopeful future for the nation and its people.
That turmoil has led to nearly 300,000 Ukrainians fleeing to the United States. Sacramento boasts around 20,000 emigres, organizers estimate, though the Sacramento region itself has long been a beacon to the Ukrainian community outside of the country.
“This city has been home for the largest Ukrainian refugee population, and we are grateful for this support,” said Vlad Skots, who is chairman of Ukrainian American House and has been in Sacramento for 20 years. “People come in here ... they understand that Ukrainian’s issues are not only a Ukraine issue, but for everybody who shares values of freedom and human rights.”
How is Sacramento’s Ukrainian community finding support?
The main goal of Ukrainian American House has been to connect Ukrainian refugees with businesses, support and community institutions, Skots said. However, fundraising at Friday’s event largely went to support soldiers seeking medical treatment for battlefield wounds.
The event was capped by a video message from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who emphasized the importance of Ukrainian independence.
Fedorov and Oleg Dubovyi, 57, another volunteer soldier who attended Friday’s event called Zelenskyy’s message a “very touching moment.”
“They met so many Ukrainians that were part of this community in this city and region,” said Sarazhynskyy, director of community events for the Protez Foundation, a nonprofit group that has been helping to sponsor wounded soldiers’ trips to the U.S.
Denis Nakonechny, the UA House’s executive director, stressed the importance of generating support for his community in times of uncertainty, noting that the group has drawn nearly half a million attendees at similar Sacramento events since 2017.
He said many attendees have only been in the U.S. for several months and the event was another opportunity “to unite together, to feel the support of other Ukrainians and build this message to the Ukrainian people that we are here together.”
“We support you,” Nakonechny said. “We did not just escape from Ukraine and just try to be under the asylum here, but we’re very active here.”
Plans for the future
Nakonechny said Friday was “a good emotion for us” not only because of the many Ukrainians making up the thousands of faces in the crowd, but also because of the Americans in attendance who were not Ukrainian.
“It’s hard to hear every time this news that the war still continues,” said Nakonechny, adding that the support from American business partners and allies has been crucial to the work of UA House. “But that is our work, to push the news, push the updates of what is happening in Ukraine and try to involve the people.”
The soldiers stayed with a host family in Sacramento, getting to visit California nature in nearby mountains and eat a steak dinner. In addition to helping wounded soldiers get to Minnesota for treatment, the Protez Foundation helps them access prosthetics, personalized training and support, as well as follow-up care back home.
As more refugees turn to Sacramento’s immigrant communities for support, UA House plans to find sponsors for them under United States immigration programs tailored for Ukranians. For many in the organization, that work is deeply personal.
“We have many real issues, but this country is great,” Skots said. “I, as a refuge, was able to come here and build my business and help other people. That makes our country truly great.”