SALT LAKE CITY -3 June 2009 -Thousands of Mormons in Ukraine and Russia traveled from throughout eastern Europe this week to welcome President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ First Presidency and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. During their trip, the two leaders spoke to several large congregations of Mormons in Kiev, Ukraine; and Samara, Yekaterinburg, and Moscow, Russia. It was a unique opportunity for members of the Church to hear in person from senior Church leaders.
“I was so excited and canceled everything so I could be here,” said Anna Chigir, a Church member from Ukraine. “He is an apostle and a servant of God and we don’t see apostles in our country very often.”
In recent years the Church has grown significantly in eastern Europe. In the last few decades the Church has grown from just a few members to nearly 20,000 in Russia and about 10,000 in Ukraine. (See history of the Church in Russia and Ukraine.)
Kiev Ukraine Temple
A noteworthy sign of Church growth is the building of the Kiev Ukraine Temple, which was announced on 20 July 1998. Ground was broken on 23 June 2007. The temple is now nearly completed and will be the first temple in eastern Europe.
During a visit to the Kiev Ukraine Temple site with President Uchtdorf, Elder Andersen said that “the temple will be a blessing to Ukraine” and that “people will join the Church here by the hundreds and thousands.”
A Church member said, “We have been waiting since 1998, when Gordon B. Hinckley announced there would be a temple in Kiev. It’s a great event for (the) Ukrainian nation.”
Latter-day Saint temples differ from the Church’s meetinghouses or chapels where members meet for Sunday worship services. Temples are considered “houses of the Lord” where Church members learn more about the purpose of life and strengthen their commitment to serve Jesus Christ and their fellow man.
The upcoming completion of the Kiev Ukraine Temple means Church members in eastern Europe won’t have to travel such great distances to participate in temple worship.
Humanitarian Aid in Ukraine
During their visit, President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen also visited a medical clinic called the Automated Diagnostical Center, which is located near the temple site. The Church made a donation to the center to purchase advanced medical diagnostic equipment. Mr. Aleksander Serafimovich Sitnik, a member of the board of the nonprofit clinic, spoke of the years of efforts to establish a clinic that could provide modern medical diagnostic services for the low-income and socially at risk population, including victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He expressed gratitude for the partnership between the clinic, the government, the Church and other donors. Government leaders and hospital professionals also expressed gratitude for the contribution of the Church, saying, “Without it, the diagnostic center would not be here today.”
Meeting with the Saints
President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen also visited the full-time missionaries in the Kiev Ukraine Mission. “Build the Church in Ukraine,” President Uchtdorf told the missionaries. “In 20 years, if (you) stay on the path, (you) will realize great blessings.”
In Moscow, at a meeting where hundreds gathered, President Uchtdorf blessed the youth. Following the meeting, a 17-year-old seminary student in Moscow said, “We are the ones who know how to share the gospel with those who live in Moscow, and we are the ones who can do this work.”
To the members in Moscow, Elder Andersen said: “I can feel your goodness and the Spirit of Christ. I feel courage from you. Each of us comes to the Church from different circumstances. We are all sons and daughters of God. He loves all of us.”
On Sunday, 600 Mormons gathered in Yekaterinburg, Russia, from throughout the Ural region of Russia. This historic event marked the first time a member of the First Presidency has visited Yekaterinburg, and members traveled from as far away as Surgut, a thousand miles by train, in order to be in attendance.
President Uchtdorf noted that the Ural Mountains are sometimes called “The Gates of Siberia.” Then he said: “You are the gates to the future of the Church. You are true pioneers in the best sense of the word, and others will follow. Generations to come will praise your name because you are not ashamed of the gospel and you did not have fear.”
Members came with high expectations, hoping to be strengthened and encouraged, and they were not disappointed. Pavel and Tatyana Kulakovy drove with their children eight hours from Ufa. “I knew this would be a great opportunity, and I was determined I wouldn’t miss out,” Pavel Kulakovy said.
While in Moscow, President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen visited a historic Baptist church where Ezra Taft Benson, then the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke in 1959. Newsroom will have a report on that visit as well as other details about the trip to Moscow later this week.
This article was prepared by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom at lds.org.