Photographing children for sponsorship at Republic Pilgrim in Ukraine

Capturing Grace on a 23-day journey through Ukraine and Greece, Photographing at Pilgrim Republic for SOW

(Serving Orphans Worldwide)

Photographing children for child sponsorship means a great deal to me since It was my daughter’s sponsorship of a little boy in India that started my path of Capturing Grace.

I have since made my way through 45 countries in the last 7 years, putting all the love I can into each photograph that I take.

Thinking about what these children have been through, and what their lives look like now, touches my heart deeply.

Standing beside Gennadiy Mokhnenko on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the Sea Of Azov, tears of joy streamed down my face. We were surrounded by children who are healthy, happy, and whole. Most of these children would not be alive if it were not for Gennadiy’s ministry being the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of these.
If you watch the documentary Almost Holy you will see that most of these children were deemed un-saveable, their bodies ravaged from life on the streets, glue-sniffing and heroin addiction was the norm for most. But here they are, running through the fields of the Republic Pilgrim land, all testimonies to the radically transforming power of Jesus Christ.

I never felt so proud in all my life to be Gennadiy’s friend as I did today, looking out over the Sea of Azov together.

Alex Ipolit

During my time photographing Sasha for his child sponsorship photographs, I connected with his kind and an ambitious spirit.

Sasha is 14 years old, he came to live at Pilgrim Republic four years ago after his father died from tuberculosis. Sasha‘s mother was unable to care for him due to her disabilities and abuse of alcohol. 

Before coming to Pilgrim, Sasha’s life had always been very difficult. The Home in which he grew up was not suitable for living. Most of the time, Sasha lived and studied in a boarding school where he frequently ran away and wandered. When he came home on the weekends he tried unsuccessfully to find friends. 

Due to Sasha‘s unstable life, his education suffered. When he came to Pilgrim he could neither read nor write nor could he perform basic math functions. He was not accustomed to the basic rules of hygiene and personal care. 

In time, Sasha became accustomed to the routines at Pilgrim and his life changed dramatically. He is now an exceptional student, has many friends, and has shown an attitude for design. He loves anything related to airplanes, collecting and building model planes is his hobby.

Any time a plane passes overhead Sasha drops everything and runs out to see.

Thanks to Republic Pilgrim, Sasha can dream and has hope for a bright future.

Would you consider sponsoring Alex? You can learn how at this link

Kira Gorbenko

During my time photographing at Gennadiy Mokhnenko’s Republic Pilgrim, I enjoyed getting to know little  Kira Gorbenko. My first recollection of meeting this smiling eight-year-old was when she reached out to my photography partner Rebecca Chapman, gifting Becca with the biggest hug and even sweeter smile.

Later, when I learned Kira’s story it made her greeting even more remarkable. 

During the brief but deadly breach of the Ukrainian border by Russia during 2014, many people in Mariupol lost their jobs and homes, most never fully recovered. Kira was been raised by her single mother, living in poverty and in a very difficult environment but now, her life became even worse. 

Kira’s mother lost their home, her work and soon had no money. Sadly, her heavy drinking resulted in the loss of her children after being admitted into a rehabilitation center. Fortunately for Kira, Republic Pilgrim became her new home, and family. 

When Kira first arrived at Gennadiy Mokhnenko’s rehabilitation center for children, she looked nothing like the child you see in these photographs. Kira’s hair was full of lice, she could not concentrate and her memory was very poor. She would start out into a particular direction and forget where she was going. It was very difficult for her to study, even holding a pen in her hand was very difficult. Kira could not fold her clothes, comb her hair or dress herself. She did not know even the rules of personal hygiene.

During the time that Kira has lived at Pilgrim, her health and appearance have improved dramatically and her fears are mostly in the past, the biggest of which is being alone.

After receiving so much love and acceptance here at Republic Pilgrim, Kira’s kind and affectionate nature have emerged. Kira often calls one of the teachers at Pilgrim “Mom”, she willingly talks about herself, has made close friendships, and takes part in all the activities of the Center. Kira loves to sing, dance, and draw.

What surprises and inspires her teacher’s the most is the fact that recently Keira has been actively participating in Bible studies, quizzes, and competitions. She is even ahead of her peers in Bible knowledge.

Kira’s story filled me with hope and so much gratefulness for the work of my friend Gennadiy Mokhnenko and all those who are changing lives and re-writing stories here at Republic Pilgrim.

Would you consider sponsoring Kira? You can learn how at this link

Ivan Marenich

Ivan’s story is yet another example of the lives transformed through the love and guidance found at Republic Pilgrim. During my time in Mariupol Ukraine, photographing child sponsorships portraits for Serving Orphans Worldwide), I was amazed to hear the stories of those who I photographed, stories of children that were once abused and neglected that are now full of hope. 

Ivan came to Republic Pilgrim two years ago from a home that was anything but. His mother was addicted to alcohol and was hiding from the police for crimes. Eventually, his mother fled from the police, leaving Ivan alone, abandoned in their rented apartment. In time, the neighbors noticed a very emaciated 10-year-old Ivan begging on the streets and notified the office of children’s affairs who placed Ivan with Republic Pilgrim. 

It took time and a lot of patience on the part of those who care for the children at Republic Pilgrim, but soon, Ivan’s kind and open personality emerged.

Recently, Ivan learned that his mother had passed away without ever getting to meet the young man that Ivan has become.

Ivan is very thankful for the new family here at Pilgrim, in his own words “I really like it here at Pilgrim, the food is delicious and I have so many friends”.

Since coming to Pilgrim Ivan has actively engaged in all of the festive events and competitions. He tries very hard to be useful and help the adults. Ivan loves to sing and often hums while reading or working on projects.

Ivan commented that  “Even when I was scared during my vagrancy, I sang”. I look forward to following Ivan’s life, a life that now has a very bright future!

Would you consider sponsoring Ivan? You can learn how at this link.

About SOW Sponsored home


In 2000, Gennadiy Mokhnenko, along with his wife and other members of their congregation, began delivering food to children on the streets. They were shocked to find that many of the children, even the youngest of them, were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Many were also infected by HIV, and unable to receive proper treatment. As time passed, Gennadiy and his church grew more and more impassioned about the children’s plight. They knew they needed to do more for these children than to simply visit them in their misery. Gennadiy began offering children shelter in an old, abandoned building. The church was later able to purchase and remodel the building into what is now Pilgrim Republic Children’s Home, a place of refuge, recovery, and rehabilitation. Today, they serve over 100 vulnerable children in Ukraine. They work to rehabilitate them from drugs, and give them opportunities to pursue their education, overcome trauma and rewrite their story.

To learn more about how you can be a part of the work at Republic Pilgrim –

  • Cynthia Myers
    Posted at 09:20h, 26 August Reply

    Wonderful stories of these children

  • capturing-grace
    Posted at 09:32h, 26 August Reply

    Thank you Cynthia!

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