Sask. summer camp offers familiar, welcoming space for Ukrainian newcomers

·2 min read
Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp is located at Wakaw Lake, northeast of Saskatoon. (Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook - image credit)
Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp is located at Wakaw Lake, northeast of Saskatoon. (Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook - image credit)

It's been more than 30 years since Larisa Kotelko was a camper at Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp on the shores of Wakaw Lake, northeast of Saskatoon, but she still gets butterflies driving down the hill to get there.

"The friendships that I've had from camp from when I was little are my lasting friendships that I have had to this day," said Kotelko, noting she grew up to be Green Grove's communications chair.

"There's that really big sense of belonging here."

LISTEN | Sisters help to keep Ukrainian camp running for the next generation:

Originally from Wakaw, Sask., Kotelko and her sister, Lesia Kotelko Lang, both now live in Calgary, Alta. However, they still make the trip out to rural Saskatchewan every summer to connect with their roots.

"It truly is a magical place," said Kotelko Lang, who's currently president of the camp's board of directors.

Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook
Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook

Embracing children from Ukraine

Green Grove Camp first opened in 1948 as a way for Ukrainian Orthodox youth to learn about their faith, culture and traditions. Since then, Ukrainian children from across Canada have traveled to attend it every year — except for the last two, due to the pandemic.

This summer, a few staff members and roughly one-third of the 65 campers, who are seven to 14 years old, have recently moved to Canada from Ukraine.

"We're all learning better Ukrainian and we're all learning better English with all of us together," Kotelko Lang said with a smile.

"The security, the happiness — I can see it all in them. It makes us feel great that we can do something like that for them."

Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook
Green Grove Ukrainian Orthodox Camp/Facebook

First-time camp counselor Nastya Shmatov says she feels fortunate to be a part of the journey for these displaced Ukrainian kids.

"I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with them and hear their stories,"  she said. "Just being a part of that experience is actually very amazing."

With some children having to leave their parents back home in Ukraine, Kotelko says that Green Grove offers a layer of comfort they haven't experienced since landing in Canada.

"Instead of being afraid, they get to be a kid and not worry about walking out a door," she explained. "It's allowing kids to be kids in the way that it's meant to be."

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