How many Russians/Ukrainians live in Sacramento?

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Recently I have heard a wide range of opinions regarding the number of Russian-speaking people in Sacramento. Some say that California’s capital is inhabited by 150,000 immigrants from former USSR, others claim 250,000, yet others are sure that the number is 300,000! Today I will try to debunk one of the most mysterious of Sacramento’s myths.

So, let’s start from the beginning. Who are the Slavic immigrants living in the glorious city of Sacramento? How did they come to the state capital? Why here?

In attempts to answer those questions one would inevitably mention community leaders and Christian radio hosts such as Daniil Loktev and Pavel Demitraj whose radio broadcasts made many people in the Soviet Union aware of Sacramento. I would also add the famous Protestant writer Nikolay Vodnevsky, the publisher of a Christian newspaper called “Nashi dni” (“Our Days”) that was circulated worldwide. I have been enjoying his short stories about immigrants in California when I lived in Belarus.

So, the persecuted people of Soviet republics were doing there best to get to Sacramento, where money grows on trees. Of course, the generous American public aid programs played an important role in this mass exodus. Although we have deviated from the main subject of our study.

So why did I decide to mention the religious component of the immigration to North California? The thing is, when we are talking about Sacramento immigrants, we mean the so-called “third wave” – the Protestant refugees from the former Soviet Union who came to the shores of Sacramento in search of better life. As we know, they comprise the majority of the immigrant population here.

Therefore it would be logical to base our estimates on the number of Slavic churches in the region. How many Russian-speaking religious communities are there in Sacramento today? According to my calculations, there are about 80 Slavic churches in the city. A simple math would give us the overall size of the congregation: no more than 25-30 thousand.

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Where did we get this number? Bethany Slavic Missionary Church includes 3500 members. When we add a couple thousand people from the First Slavic Baptist Church, one thousand from the House of Bread, two more thousand from Bryte Church (evendough it’s in West Sacramento), 1000 people from the Light of the Gospel community, plus the congregation of a few dozen of smaller churches – we get no more than 24 thousand people.

Of course, those who pay attention will remind us about such “unofficial” congregation members as minor children of church-going parents who attend the places of worship on Sundays. Let’s assume that an average Russian Christian family has 2-3 children between the ages of 1 and 18. If we multiply 12,000 (the number of religious families) by 3, we get 36 thousand children. Therefore, if we account for the minors, the overall number of religious immigrants comes to 60 thousand people.

Let’s assume that some people got disappointed in traditional Slavic churches and decided to attend the American ones instead. I don’t think those would amount to more than 10 thousand, 15 thousand at the most. The grand total is 75 thousand people.

By the way, if we compare these calculations with the results of the US Census, we will get a very similar picture.

The 2012 Census showed that 20,730 residents of Sacramento County were born in Russia and 21,386 – in Ukraine (each group comprises 1.5% of the population). Should we add the 1415 Lithuanians to the count? The website does not even mention any Belorussians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis or Armenians. There is probably a negligible number of them in the state’s capital. Let’s say their number is 10 thousand or even 20 thousand. Either way, the overall count of Russian-speaking immigrants is no more than 60,000.

I would like to remind you that Sacramento County includes suburbs such as Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights, West Sacramento, Folsom, Elk Grove and even Rancho Murieta.

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Similar numbers are published by the journalists of The Sacramento Bee newspaper. And Americans know a thing or two about demographics and marketing! I believe that if Sacramento really had 300,000 “Russian” people (out of the population of 1,400,000), the next State Governor or at least the next Mayor of Rancho Cordova could be our Slavic compatriot. The American laws allow it.

So the astronomical numbers of 200-300 thousand Russian-speaking immigrants in Sacramento seem to be, to put it mildly, inaccurate guesses. Maybe you have different figures, or do you see an error in my calculations?

P.S. By the way, this research has revealed an interesting fact: there is an equal number of Russians and Ukrainians in Sacramento. Somehow I always had an impression that Ukrainians grossly outnumber Russians here. Did you? But this would be a subject for another study.

Ruslan Gurzhiy,

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