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Local Russian faithful pray for peace and understanding at home and abroad

Russian Americans are caught in the middle of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado visited a Russian Orthodox Church that has been here for about six decades and tells us many are already experiencing anti-Russian sentiment at home.

Tucked away in a San Diego neighborhood you’ll find the St. John of Kronstadt Russian Orthodox Church.

Inside, you’ll find Archpriest Evgeny Grushetsky, who leads the faithful in prayers in their mother tongue.

"It’s a piece of Russia here, so for them, it’s a piece of the heart also," Grushetsky said.

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Every inch of the church is filled with icons and relics from the ancient past that help the faithful feel a little closer to God and their motherland.

"Old Russia, we don’t call Russia, we call 'Rus,’" he said.

But, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a conflict between two peoples who are so intertwined, hearts are heavy here.

"Troubled hearts after all of this because you know the war ... and invasions and collisions ... it deprives us of the rest and peace inside," he said with visible sadness and discomfort on his face.

RELATED: San Diegans with family and friends in Ukraine watch in horror as Russian invasion unfolds

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His flock is a mixture of people from Russia and Ukraine.

"My father is from Ukraine," he said with a laugh. He is half Russian and half Ukrainian. He prays for and counsels both Russians and Ukrainians without distinction.

"Yesterday, one woman came here from Ukraine and asked me to pray for her and for her relatives in the Ukraine," he said.

He said recent services had focused on praying for peace and unity. But he also said anti-Russian sentiment was causing sadness, and he’s seeing more of it.

"And mother complained: ‘I don’t know what to do,'" he said as he recounted the story of having to comfort a woman whose son is being bullied because he is Russian. But he is seeing the same story play out with children.

"They’re bullying against them. When they say, ‘I’m Russian,’ they say ‘Boo, boo Russians,’" he said. "In school, even teachers say, ‘Russia is a very bad country,’ and the children say: ‘OK, if it's a bad country, then everyone from Russia is bad people.'"

He urges adults to watch their words, especially around children, who often interpret things literally, and for people to have dialogue that creates tolerance and understanding.

"Live in peace, yeah, not in hatred, because if you hate it’s not good ideology — it's not productive," he said, adding that loving one's neighbor and even enemy is at the heart of Christian teaching.

He said that, during times when we feel helpless, we should look to our better angels and appeal to a higher power.

"God bless Russia and Ukraine and grant them peace," he said in both Russian and English as he made the sign of the cross.