BBC News, Ukraine
Gennady Mokhnenko from Mariupol is the father of 35 kids, and most of them are sons. There are only three biological kids, the rest are adopted, but there is no division into own and not own in the family – they are all their own kids.
The pastor of the local Christian church has been working with street kids for over 20 years. He took them not only from the street, but also saved them from death and drugs, gave them a chance to return to normal life.
Gennady is now 53 years old, and he understands well: those who grew up on the street will not be able to put up with the system of state orphanages, but in family, with new parents, they will have a new life.
Caring for the street kids is natural for the pastor. He himself grew up in the family of alcoholics. As a teenager, he was afraid to return home, to his parents’ flat, expecting to see one of his parents dead. That is why Gennadiy began to help children forced to survive in the harsh conditions of the streets.
The first adopted were three sons, then five more, then seven more. Gradually there were 35 of them. Most of the kids had biological parents, so the pastor took guardianship of his new kids. All of them are local, from Mariupol.
When the Mokhnenko family began to grow, the parents had two daughters. Later, the third biological son was born.
Certificate from the morgue: “A creature of the human race”
Among the adopted children, “Mowgli” appeared twice. One boy was about 12 years old. He did not remember anything about his family. No documents could be found. The identity of the child had to be legally established.
“The forensic medical examiner of the local morgue made documents for my two sons,” Gennadiy Mokhnenko recalls. “The certificates were then issued in Russian, and there it was written: “A creature of the human race, male, about 12-13 years old”.
This is how Roman and Alexander had their first papers. Roman’s biological family was found a few years later, Alexander’s parents were never found.
“Let’ go change your life!”
The first 17 children of a large family, even after the official registration, lived with their parents on the territory of the children’s center “Republic Pilgrim”.
This is the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Mariupol for young street kids, orphans, drugs, alcohol and gambling addicted teenagers. More than four thousand kids have already passed through it, all of them with ruined lives.
It was impossible to live in Gennady’s apartment of 30 square meters. When they bought their own house for the Mokhnenko family, then they had to squeeze in 47 square meters of its area.
“According to sanitary standards, it was horror, but officials met halfway and understood that this was the only chance for street kids to start a new life. It is better for them to live in such conditions with a roof over their heads than with drugs and on the street,” Gennadiy believes.
Over the years, children grew up and began their own adult life, and new ones came to their place.
Gennadiy took thirty-five kids into his family and raised them as his own. Seven of them are girls, the rest are boys. The parents rejoice for the success of everyone, and they try to cope with the problems of everyone. We recently celebrated the 22nd birthday of one of our sons.
“Five-year-old Roman was taken from the street at 2am. I told him: “We are going to change life! Subsequently, Roman became the champion of Ukraine in boxing,” Mokhnenko says.
The pastor notes that it makes no difference for children what official papers they have and what status they have. The main thing is to be able to grow up in a family.
A ruined girl’s life
“One unique story is of a girl on the street,” says the pastor. – Her life was ruined at the age of 13-14.
My first adopted daughter died when she became a mother herself. “
According to Gennadiy, Olya got married, gave birth to a child. Her psychological problem was that she was little she was starving on street, so later she ate everything and a lot. She was overweight, had hypertension. As a result, there was a stroke, coma, and then death. All this is due to a hungry childhood. Olya spent twelve years on the street.
“Another daughter managed to get rid of the past, graduated from the university. But nevertheless, each of them has a difficult situation.” -says the father.
“Share Mom and Dad”
When Gennadiy began to adopt children, his biological children were in the elementary grades.
At first there was jealousy. However, taking foster children is the best pedagogical strategy when raising your own kids, the father is certain.
When his biological son Semyon was five years old, a8-year-old Daniel appeared in the Mokhnenko family. The children ran and played together. Later, Semyon came running from the yard and said: “Mom, Dad! I need to talk to you seriously! I know that Daniel’s parents have died, and I must share my mom and dad with him!”
With these words, he brought his parents to tears.
Recently, parents with many kids have their first biological grandson. In general, Mokhnenko already has 26 grandchildren from adopted children.
Shirokino is visible, mine-throwers work
Since the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, Mokhnenko began to build a house in a village on the outskirts of Mariupol. Construction has been going on for six years.
Only recently did the 31st adopted son have a room of his own. He became the first child in the family to receive his own space. Until the age of five, he slept on the floor, and on warm days – on a trampoline near the garage.
One can see the settlement of Shirokino from the windows of one of the rooms. 700 meters from the house there are trenches, and then the front line is visible. When mine-throwers work, you can hear everything.
They cultivate sheep, chickens, and quails and they built a greenhouse.
Neighbors find it difficult
“It’s difficult for our neighbors since our family is like an anthill. People, guests, cars are here nonstop. But over time they begin to be friends with our company and our invasion,” says Gennadiy.
Due to the fact that children from the street easily find a common language with adults, there have never been problems with neighbors.
Children are also responsible for the daily routine in the large family.
“I am 53 years old, and I can cook only two types of scrambled eggs,” Gennadiy admits. “But my kids can do everything. We have a duty. This is a great help for their mother who has been sick since the beginning of the war.”
A kilo of mercy
The donations of the church parishioners help to support the large Mokhnenko family.
Support comes from different parts of Ukraine. There are no big businessmen or corporations among the sponsors, so the ordinary people help.
Thanks to this support, the “Republic Pilgrim” also functions, and it is possible to implement various social projects in which they support people who find themselves in difficult life circumstances.
“A kilo of mercy” – this was the name of the food collection campaign at one time. Everyone accepted with gratitude a kilo of potatoes, cereals, sugar. They started in the late 90s by simply feeding the children on the street, and later they began to take them to the nascent “State of Former Homeless Children” and to their family.
Among the acquaintances and friends of Gennadiy there are many of those who also adopted such difficult children into their families. The believers like him also became foster parents.
“My worst war”
The hardest thing for Gennady is to bury his children. Therefore, he fights for their lives to the last.
One of the boys was found on the street when he was two and a half years old. He was given back to his parents. When the child was four years old, a murder took place before his eyes. The boy was on the street again. On critical days for him, he sniffed out 40 tubes of glue, became a pathological toxic addict. At the age of 12, Gennady took him to his family and raised him.
In his independent life, however, the boy constantly broke down, was in prisons. He had to be rescued from the street repeatedly. Once he was taken to hospital for the operation, and he was all in blood.
“I believed that there were chances to get out, until the very end I did not lose hope. But at some point we buried him next to one of the brothers, who also failed to change his life, ”says Gennady, lowering his eyes.
“Another of the sons has been a drug addict since childhood. His name was “Milk” because he used drugs and washed them down with a carton of milk. As a result, he spent 15 years in prison, had tuberculosis and AIDS. When he came to me after prison, we immediately took him to the hospital, but we could not save him … On his birthday in the hospital, he asked for sushi. And the next day he was gone, ”says Gennady with a deep grief.
“For me, this is war. The most terrible war, which is not called that, but thousands of people die from it. It is drugs and alcohol. My calling is to save people, to give kids a chance for a new life,” the father of many children admits.
He calls for the support of various forms of adoption and guardianship in every possible way so that children grow up in a family.
“A child should be able to hug mom and dad, to have his own refrigerator and pillow. A child should be able to share food, joys and problems with brothers and sisters in the family, to learn from his own experience how to live as a family,” says Gennadiy Mokhnenko, who raised 35 kids.