'Gennadiy' looks at the power of forced change

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 7:44 p.m.

He finds them dirty, cold and hungry, sleeping next to water pipes for heat. He finds them reeling from their addiction of choice: sniffed glue, cold medicine injected into their veins, alcohol. When he finds them in the night, he takes them, luring or carrying them into his unmarked van.

He is Gennadiy Mokhnenko, and he has dedicated his life to helping the homeless, addicted children of Mariupal, Ukraine, where the fall of the Soviet Union resulted in collapsed infrastructure, leaving orphanages to fall into ruin and releasing a flood of young children onto the streets. Mokhnenko runs an orphanage by day and spends his nights combing the streets, searching for another soul in desperate need of care. He takes them to his orphanage where, behind locked doors, they endure the hell of forced detox.

Mokhnenko is the subject of the latest film project of Pittsburghers Danny Yourd and Steve Hoover, the team behind the movie “Blood Brother,” winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for U.S. documentaries. That film depicted the work of Rocky Braat and his transformation from disenchanted American to dedicated volunteer at an Indian orphanage for children living with HIV.

By showing audiences the struggles and hardships both Gennadiy and the children face in the Ukraine, the new film will pose the question, “When, if ever, is it OK to force someone to change?”

“We were really inspired by Gennadiy,” says Hoover, 30, of the North Side. “The things he's gone through on an individual level led to him wanting to fix the problem he saw around him — homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, children suffering from the fallout of everything.”

The team first met Gennadiy when an organization that supports him hired the crew to film a promotional piece about his work. They spent four days with Gennadiy, and in doing so, found the focus of their new project.

Through a Kickstarter campaign, the “Gennadiy” team is hoping to raise a minimum of $40,000 to assist in completing the film. That will cover cost of travel and production, as well as the original score to be co-written by acclaimed composer Atticus Ross, whose work alongside Trent Reznor won an Academy Awards for “The Social Network” and a Grammy for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

A limited amount of people who pledge $50 or more can attend a screening of “Blood Brother” on Aug. 16, at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, in addition to other gifts.

UNICEF reports there are more than 100,000 homeless children in the Ukraine. Some are runaways, some are escaping abusive and alcoholic parents, some are orphans.

“When the Soviet Union was destroyed, many, many homeless children go to the streets everywhere, all day and all night,” Mokhnenko says in the “Gennadiy” trailer. “We have many strange situations here. But we must go inside children's lives and change their life. It's a real war.”

Yet, the children don't always want help. They scream, fight, even threaten suicide. This raises the question of whether what Mokhnenko is doing is ethical or not.

“It's hard not to hear the stories he shares and not be moved by it,” says Hoover. “I like letting people make their own decisions.”

For information on the project and how to help support it, visit gennadiyfilm.com. The Kickstarter campaign ends Aug. 13.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at rweaver@tribweb.com.

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