SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The Greater Sacramento region is already home to a large Slavic population.

Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians started making their way to California dating back to the late 1800s, but what prompted the move and what continues to keep them coming?

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There are so many inspirational stories for those starting a new life and escaping and old one, but word spread specifically about Sacramento, all it had to offer and it only grew from there.

A time when many felt like prisoners in their own country, with the fall of the Soviet Union came a sense of freedom many will never forget.

“[Ronald] Reagan, President of the United States, said ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the wall.’ And it was the start of our generation to come out of the country,” Valeriy Tutunik said.

Tutunik remembers those words like they were yesterday, opening the doors to a wave of evangelical emigration in the late 1980s. Tutunik was one of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians who rushed to California escaping religious persecution.

“And they put me in front of the whole school and the teacher said, ‘Kids, laugh at him. He went to the church on Sunday,’ ” Tutunik said.

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But what’s the reason behind multiple waves of immigration from Ukraine dating back to the late 1800s?  From those seeking employment to political refugees, some wanted better living conditions and higher wages.

The president of Ukranian Heritage Club said there was a priest in Sacramento who spoke Russian, and as word got out, families grew and shared their good fortune here in Sacramento with their friends.

Like so many others, Tutunik chose Sacramento because it already had an established Ukrainian community where he could pray in peace.

“I could do what I want, I could say what I want and this church started at that time and it was first Ukrainian church in my life,” he said.

And it’s the very church he came to pray Thursday night for his family and friends still in Ukraine.

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So while many originally came for political and religious freedom, their family members here say many more may come escaping war.