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Family welcomes baby No. 17

Immigrants live a simple, if sometimes noisy, life at home in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.-- As a young newlywed in Ukraine, Vladimir Chernenko feared he and his wife, Zynaida, would not be able to have children after six months of fruitless attempts.

Now he knows those fears were unfounded, to say the least.

Zynaida Chernenko has given birth to David -- the Rancho Cordova, Calif., couple's ninth son and 17th child.

Family Picture

"I never thought I would have such a big family," said the father at the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church. "But I sincerely believe in God, and I believe my children are a gift from the Lord," he said through a translator.

The Chernenkos have not ruled out having more children, as they believe the size of their family is ultimately God's will. They are undaunted by the prospect of another child.

"When a person casts his fears up to the Lord, then he helps with everything," Vladimir said.

In the Sacramento region, the average family has 3.19 members, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The census stops counting once households reach seven or more, and those represent about 2 percent of the population in the four surrounding counties.

Families as large as the Chernenkos are a rarity, especially as women wait until later in life to get married and have children.

The Chernenkos' church, which as the nation's largest Slavic Pentecostal congregation draws 5,000 worshippers each Sunday, holds them up as an example for their familial devotion and unwavering faith in God.

"This is a wonderful occasion," said head pastor Adam Bondaruk, after blessing the family and presenting Zynaida with a large flower arrangement. "From God, you have more gifts than anybody."

The Chernenkos are among the nation's largest families with biological children, but it is unknown who has the most in the country. The Duggar family of Arkansas, with 16 children, has received much media attention in recent months, the result of a Discovery Channel documentary and a slick Web site.

Unlike the Duggars, the Chernenko couple, who don't speak English, are unlikely to become media darlings.

They live a simple, if sometimes noisy life at their home in Rancho Cordova. Each child has a bed in the seven-room house, and the family tools around in a 15-passenger bus. They eat dinner together every night and attend church faithfully.

Vladimir Chernenko works as a security guard and maintenance man at a charter school. Zynaida cares for the children and keeps the household humming along, with significant help from the older children, who pitch in on cooking, cleaning and child-care duties.

"I'm very grateful for my grown-up children, who can substitute and help us out," Zynaida said.

The family, who immigrated to the United States seven years ago to escape religious persecution, receives public assistance.

"We are grateful for this wonderful country, for medical care, for education, for everything that America has given to us," Zynaida said. "As a family, we try to contribute to this country, too."

"It's good," said 18-year-old Dmitry of life with so many siblings. "I like it. Some of my friends say they're bored because their families only have one or two children. We are never, never bored. We always have something to do."

Sister Lyudmila, 16, said she rarely craves time alone. "I usually like to be around everybody," she said. "I think my life is more interesting and busier. It's always fun, and there's always someone to talk to."

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"The family, who immigrated to the United States seven years ago to escape religious persecution, receives public assistance."

I bet just about everything is free for this guy. Things this guy probably doesn't pay for:

- Food

- Medicine and health care

- College tuition for his kids (when the time comes)

- Taxes (heck, the government probably pays him money)

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