The Soviet Union’s collapse and transition into emerging sovereign states created a vacuum of power, employment, and basic services. Thousands of children ultimately fell into the cracks of that political earthquake. Almost Holy documents Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko’s mission to rescue Ukrainian street children from prostitution and drug addiction.

I hate many wicked things about this city, but I love it,” Mokhnenko says during an early morning jog along a wharf in the port city of Mariupol.

He says God told him he could no longer walk past homeless children, runaways from alcoholic parents and soft targets for pimps and druggies. Seeing little government interest in the welfare of street children (some as young as 6), Mokhnenko became a one-man justice system. By day, he leads protest marches and confronts pharmacists who sell prescription painkillers under the counter to drug dealers. On night raids, Mokhnenko pulls kids—sometimes forcibly—out of sewers and basements of abandoned buildings. He drives them to the Republic of Pilgrim, a rehabilitation center he established in 2000.

Heartbreaking scenes (and a few expletives) earn Almost Holy an R rating. Covered with sores and needle marks, teenage Tolik dies of AIDS not long after being rescued, and the Pilgrim household buries him. Mokhnenko removes deaf-mute Luba from the dilapidated dwelling where for years a man twice her age has kept her in sexual servitude.

 

More than 1,000 children have passed through Pilgrim. Mokhnenko and his wife, Lena, have added 32 adopted kids to their own three. Disappointingly, director Steve Hoover (“not a person of faith,” he says of himself) plays up Mokhnenko’s eccentricity—self-assuredness just shy of a savior complex—while almost entirely neglecting the pastor’s faith and Lena’s contributions. Still, the documentary doesn’t cheat viewers of tender scenes showing boys wrapping their skinny arms around their new dad’s broad shoulders. The gospel radiates from this courageous, selfless father who showers love on his adopted children.

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