Three Long Island summer camps offered free summer scholarships to children from the Ukraine who relocated to Long Island. USDAN has 12 children and hired a translator.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

Artur Lande, 10, playfully hits the brim of Vadym Verkholiak’s blue baseball cap and flips it off his 9-year-old buddy’s head. The new friends engage in a rock, paper, scissors faceoff to see who goes first for a day camp activity. When they’re in the painting and drawing studio, they work together to paint a skull mask.

It’s a typical day at Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights, but these campers' stories are not typical. Both boys are from Ukrainian families that fled the war there. Artur and his mother, who are from Odesa, arrived in New York on March 13. Vadym and his younger brother, Bohdan, 7, who is also attending Usdan, left Chernivtsi on March 24 with seven relatives, traveling through Romania, France, and Mexico before arriving on Long Island.

The two boys met this summer and are part of a group of 12 Ukrainian children ages 5 to 13 attending Usdan on a scholarship called The Sunflower Scholarship, after Ukraine’s national flower.  Two Ukrainian children are also attending Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, and four are attending Camps 'R' Us in Farmingdale, through scholarship programs at those camps. The programs run through mid-August.

Camp directors wanted to help families impacted by the war, and the best way they knew how was to offer Ukrainian children a carefree summer, says Alicia Skovera, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. “We know of about five day camps in New York and New Jersey with Ukrainian campers. We believe there are many more camps,” she says.

“When the news broke in February that Russia was invading Ukraine out of the blue, it was pretty shocking,” says Will Pierce, an owner/director of Pierce Country Day Camp. He says he heard from a family whose children are Pierce campers that a local school had two students attending who were Ukrainian and whose father was still in Ukraine fighting. “I can’t imagine the upheaval they’re going through in their lives. Hopefully this gives them a little bit of normalcy.” 

This is not the first time the region's camps have helped after tragedies, Skovera adds; camps offered free summers to children who lost a parent on 9/11, and to children whose families’ homes were damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

“During the past few months, we have witnessed the heinous crimes of war, preventing the children from having a normal childhood,” says Joanne Turnier, Camps ‘R’ Us owner. “The kids are having a great time; they've tried new activities, made new friends, and have been embraced by all.”

Usdan’s campers, who are attending for either eight, four or two weeks, are sponsored in a large part by funding from the UJA-Federation of New York, says Lauren Brandt Schloss, Usdan executive director. Camp would otherwise cost $8,200 for the full eight-week summer, she says. The program also sponsors one child whose Long Island family is hosting  Ukrainian relatives.

"Their lives were upended so dramatically and so quickly," UJA-Federation of New York CEO Eric Goldstein says of why the philanthropic organization is sponsoring the Usdan children.

Usdan also hired a translator, Alisa Hurley, 35, of Amityville, to assist the children. She carries with her a miniature blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag.

Artur, who learned some English in school in Odesa, understands enough to answer for himself when asked what he likes most about camp: “I like pool. Pool is nice,” he says immediately. “I like teachers. It’s so fun.”

Usdan camper Kristina Stelmashchuk, 13, who is staying in Lynbrook, has been to the United States before because her grandmother lives here. She and her mother and sister arrived from Kyiv in April, she says. “I like doing photography,” she says of camp, showing off her artistic interpretation of , basketballs on a court, and a fire hydrant, all of which hang in a camp photo studio. “I very [much] like swimming. Every day I’m swimming,” she adds. As for U.S. life outside of camp: “Here is very delicious pizza,” Kristina says. But she misses home and her friends in Ukraine, she says.

Over at Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, Roman Topolia, 9, is learning to swim. He’s holding an orange kickboard in the camp’s indoor pool, practicing his kicking style. After he reaches group leader Steve Metzger, 35, who is standing in the shallow end, the two share a celebratory fist bump.

Roman's favorite camp activity? He pantomimes pulling an arrow back in a bow: archery. Roman and his younger brother, Mark, 6, are both attending Pierce on a scholarship from the camp.

 

Lazar and Yevgenia Sherbin live in Babylon and are hosting Yevgenia's mother, older sister, and 9-year-old nephew, Gordiy Fostenko, who arrived from Kyiv, where Yevgenia's father remains. “My mom saw out of her window the tanks were on her street,” Yevgenia says.

Lazar had moved from Ukraine to the United States when he was 10 years old; the Sherbins have two children, Sebastian, 8, and Stella, 3, both born here. Sebastian and Gordiy are both attending Usdan through the Sunflower program.

“They did an amazing job uniting all the Ukrainian kids after such a tragedy,” says Lazar Sherbin, 44, who works for a cable company.

“They were so generous, and they were so amazing,” Yevgenia Sherbin says. As for the cousins, who are sharing the same bedroom in Babylon and attending camp together: “They love it,” Yevgenia says. 

Artur Lande, 10, playfully hits the brim of Vadym Verkholiak’s blue baseball cap and flips it off his 9-year-old buddy’s head. The new friends engage in a rock, paper, scissors faceoff to see who goes first for a day camp activity. When they’re in the painting and drawing studio, they work together to paint a skull mask.

It’s a typical day at Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights, but these campers' stories are not typical. Both boys are from Ukrainian families that fled the war there. Artur and his mother, who are from Odesa, arrived in New York on March 13. Vadym and his younger brother, Bohdan, 7, who is also attending Usdan, left Chernivtsi on March 24 with seven relatives, traveling through Romania, France, and Mexico before arriving on Long Island.

Alisa Hurley, center, camp worker at Usdan Summer Camp in...

Alisa Hurley, center, camp worker at Usdan Summer Camp in Wheatley Heights, with Ukraine refugee students Artur Lande, 10, left, and Vadym Verkholiak, 9, on the camp grounds in Wheatley Heights on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Hurley is also from Ukraine and came to the United States in 2009. Credit: James Carbone

The two boys met this summer and are part of a group of 12 Ukrainian children ages 5 to 13 attending Usdan on a scholarship called The Sunflower Scholarship, after Ukraine’s national flower.  Two Ukrainian children are also attending Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, and four are attending Camps 'R' Us in Farmingdale, through scholarship programs at those camps. The programs run through mid-August.

'EMBRACED BY ALL'

Camp directors wanted to help families impacted by the war, and the best way they knew how was to offer Ukrainian children a carefree summer, says Alicia Skovera, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. “We know of about five day camps in New York and New Jersey with Ukrainian campers. We believe there are many more camps,” she says.

“When the news broke in February that Russia was invading Ukraine out of the blue, it was pretty shocking,” says Will Pierce, an owner/director of Pierce Country Day Camp. He says he heard from a family whose children are Pierce campers that a local school had two students attending who were Ukrainian and whose father was still in Ukraine fighting. “I can’t imagine the upheaval they’re going through in their lives. Hopefully this gives them a little bit of normalcy.” 

This is not the first time the region's camps have helped after tragedies, Skovera adds; camps offered free summers to children who lost a parent on 9/11, and to children whose families’ homes were damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

“During the past few months, we have witnessed the heinous crimes of war, preventing the children from having a normal childhood,” says Joanne Turnier, Camps ‘R’ Us owner. “The kids are having a great time; they've tried new activities, made new friends, and have been embraced by all.”

FAVORITE PART: POOL

Roman Topolia, 9, a Ukrainian refugee, attends Pierce Country Day...

Roman Topolia, 9, a Ukrainian refugee, attends Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Usdan’s campers, who are attending for either eight, four or two weeks, are sponsored in a large part by funding from the UJA-Federation of New York, says Lauren Brandt Schloss, Usdan executive director. Camp would otherwise cost $8,200 for the full eight-week summer, she says. The program also sponsors one child whose Long Island family is hosting  Ukrainian relatives.

"Their lives were upended so dramatically and so quickly," UJA-Federation of New York CEO Eric Goldstein says of why the philanthropic organization is sponsoring the Usdan children.

"It's incredibly moving to see children who experienced significant trauma dancing and interacting and enjoying camp."

— UJA-Federation of New York CEO Eric Goldstein

Usdan also hired a translator, Alisa Hurley, 35, of Amityville, to assist the children. She carries with her a miniature blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag.

Artur, who learned some English in school in Odesa, understands enough to answer for himself when asked what he likes most about camp: “I like pool. Pool is nice,” he says immediately. “I like teachers. It’s so fun.”

Kristina Stelmashchuk, 13, on the Usdan Summer Camp grounds in...

Kristina Stelmashchuk, 13, on the Usdan Summer Camp grounds in Wheatley Heights. Stelmashchuk came to the camp from Ukraine. Credit: James Carbone

Usdan camper Kristina Stelmashchuk, 13, who is staying in Lynbrook, has been to the United States before because her grandmother lives here. She and her mother and sister arrived from Kyiv in April, she says. “I like doing photography,” she says of camp, showing off her artistic interpretation of , basketballs on a court, and a fire hydrant, all of which hang in a camp photo studio. “I very [much] like swimming. Every day I’m swimming,” she adds. As for U.S. life outside of camp: “Here is very delicious pizza,” Kristina says. But she misses home and her friends in Ukraine, she says.

Over at Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn, Roman Topolia, 9, is learning to swim. He’s holding an orange kickboard in the camp’s indoor pool, practicing his kicking style. After he reaches group leader Steve Metzger, 35, who is standing in the shallow end, the two share a celebratory fist bump.

Roman's favorite camp activity? He pantomimes pulling an arrow back in a bow: archery. Roman and his younger brother, Mark, 6, are both attending Pierce on a scholarship from the camp.

FAMILY MEMBERS GRATEFUL

 

Lazar and Yevgenia Sherbin live in Babylon and are hosting Yevgenia's mother, older sister, and 9-year-old nephew, Gordiy Fostenko, who arrived from Kyiv, where Yevgenia's father remains. “My mom saw out of her window the tanks were on her street,” Yevgenia says.

Lazar had moved from Ukraine to the United States when he was 10 years old; the Sherbins have two children, Sebastian, 8, and Stella, 3, both born here. Sebastian and Gordiy are both attending Usdan through the Sunflower program.

“They did an amazing job uniting all the Ukrainian kids after such a tragedy,” says Lazar Sherbin, 44, who works for a cable company.

“They were so generous, and they were so amazing,” Yevgenia Sherbin says. As for the cousins, who are sharing the same bedroom in Babylon and attending camp together: “They love it,” Yevgenia says.