Remembering Irina

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  Rev 21:4

Our hearts are deeply saddened to report that our dear friend, co-worker, and director of Mercy Projects Ukraine, Irina Vladirmirovna Skrypnik, went home to be with the Lord December 25, 2019.  Irina served the last 25 years as the director of EEO Ukraine, known today as Mercy Projects, and she is the architect of the child and family sponsorship program there.  She is no longer suffering from pancreatic cancer, and this newsletter is dedicated to her memory and her legacy of ministry to at-risk children that continues on.

Her Early Life

Irina was from the eastern Urals, near the city of Chelyabinsk.   Her father Vladimir Petrovich, was a nuclear physicist during the Cold War. Her mother, Lyudmilla Nikolayevna, worked as a scientist.  Their family, with Irina as an only child, lived in a closed, top secret region.

She excelled in her studies and also in sports, competing as a champion in swimming and an Olympic hopeful.  Her parents, however, eventually sent her to live in the Ukrainian SSR capital of Kyiv.  She moved in with her grandmother and attended Shevchenko University.  She graduated in 1980 with a degree in cybernetics.

Chernobyl and the breakup of the Soviet Union

Irina married her husband Yuri in September 1984.  They were separated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion as Irina fled Kyiv with their two young daughters.  A few years later Irina went back to school to obtain her Ph.D. in Psychology.  Revolution rumbled across Eastern Europe as the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, and the Soviet Union disintegrated December 25, 1991.   Irina began teaching Psychology at the university, but the new country of Ukraine suffered deep political and economic turmoil, hyperinflation, and high unemployment.  Sensing there was no future staying in Ukraine, they decided to immigrate to Australia.

In the summer of 1992, less than one year after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Irina’s friend from university invited her to translate for an EEO mission team.  The next summer of 1993, she translated again for EEO teams and by 1994 she and Yuri came to faith in Christ and were baptized.

In June 1994 she helped us start EEO Ukraine and completed the legal registration in a post-communist system that did not recognize Christian non-profit organizations.  Later that year their application to immigrate to Australia was denied.   It seemed the Lord had other plans.

Translating in Russian Youth Prisons

Irina translated for me and our other EEO missionaries in youth prisons all across Russia.  The prison officials and generals in Moscow loved her for her language skills and people skills.

I distinctly remember preaching a sermon on the prodigal son in Luke 15.  As I described the son, dirty and unworthy, returning to his father, I noticed the translation had briefly stopped.  I repeated myself.  Again silence.  I looked over and saw that Irina was crying. The crowd of hundreds of young teenage boys in the prison grew quiet.  God’s word was having a great impact and many were saved.

The years of experience in the youth prisons helped us understand the underlying social problems that families faced.  There was an orphan epidemic in the former Soviet Union.  Irina understood that if mothers were to keep their children at home, and not abandon them out of despair to an orphanage, then those mothers would need support.

Child Sponsorship and Childcare Coordinators

Irina’s first job besides translation was to identify children and families who needed sponsorship assistance. We started in the Chernobyl Nuclear-contaminated zone with 50 families.  Irina knew she would need help.  Her mother became the first childcare coordinator.  Irina envisioned a network of family ministry coordinators, like Christian social workers, who would care for the single mothers and families in their caseload.  Eventually, up to 1000 children were cared for by coordinators around the country.

A Legacy of Love

Irina Vladirmirovna was a strong but kind, firm and caring director.  She left thousands of children, now grown up, who thank her for the love and care of their sponsors and coordinators.  She loved her husband, her children, the EEO ministry, and always remained passionate about swimming.

Irina is survived by her husband Yuri, two daughters Marina and Alyona, and her first grandchild Chloe, born just eight weeks before she passed away.  We love you Irina.  You left us much too soon.