As the eyes of the world turn to Ukraine in this trying time, many Latter-day Saints may wonder about the history of the Church in the country and the members who live there. As we look at the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ukraine, we find stories of outstanding faith and perseverance.
Religious Restriction Under Communist Control
After the First World War destroyed Eastern European empires, the Soviet Union began to emerge and multiple Ukrainian states existed. What we know as the modern country of Ukraine was declared in June 1917 and was a part of the Russian Republic. Civil war and continued unrest over the next few years led Ukraine to become a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1922.
While under communist control, religious expression and freedom were restricted. However, near the fall of Communism, laws were passed to allow independent religious organizations to operate in the country. This law and the collapse of the USSR would pave the way for missionary work in Ukraine.
On October 7, 1990, two Latter-day Saint missionaries, Ivan Stratov and Brian Bradbury, were transferred from Austria Vienna East Mission to Kyiv. They had a list of referrals and were accompanied by President Dennis B. Neuenschwander.
A month later, Valeriy Stravichenko became the first person to be baptized in Ukraine on November 25, 1990, in the Dnieper River. Brother Stravichenko would be called as the president of the first branch in Ukraine six months later on June 9, 1991.
Now, with a small missionary force of twenty-three, the Church quickly expanded. Approximately 160 people were baptized in 1991.
Official Recognition in Kyiv
Though the growth of the Church in Ukraine was steady, it had to be done carefully and methodically. Then, Verkhovna Rada, the parliament of Ukraine proclaimed the country’s independence on August 24, 1991. Elders Boyd K. Packer and Dallin H. Oaks arrived on September 12 and dedicated Ukraine for the preaching of the restored gospel at a park near the Dnieper River.
In his prayer, Elder Packer said, “We see the day when there will be scattered in the villages here and there a member and yet another member and then a gathering and then a branch and, in due time, stakes of Zion set firmly and permanently upon the fertile soil of Ukraine. And in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land.”
A few days later the Church was officially registered with the city of Kyiv.
According to the Church’s official history of activity in Ukraine, the mission president Howard L. Biddulph prayed about the delay in official registration. Not long after, an official arrived at the little branch.
“On the first Sunday of August, Viktor Cherinko, a Deputy of the City Soviet (the legislative assembly for Kyiv), attended Church services. Cherinko had heard good things about the Latter-day Saints and wanted to investigate. President Biddulph explained his desire that the Church be registered and Cherinko agreed to help. A few weeks later, Mr. Cherinko introduced a bill to register “The Kyiv Community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” which was passed at midnight on 9 September 1991.”
Continued Growth & Recognition
The Ukraine Kyiv Mission was established in February 1992 and on March 13, Oleksiy Roms became the first missionary to be called from Ukraine. Missionary work expanded outside of Kyiv and other branches and districts were formed. The first seminary and institute classes were held in 1993 and by 1996 Oleksandr Manzhos became the first mission president from Ukraine, serving as president of the Ukraine Donetsk Mission.
Throughout this continued growth, the Church was still not nationally recognized and sought official status. This recognition finally came on July 30, 1996.
The first meetinghouses in Ukraine were dedicated in Donetsk on June 28, 1998, with two meetinghouses in Kyiv following a few years later in early September 2001. Steven and Jean Struck, Ukrainian natives who had moved to Canada, returned to the country and put together a team to translate the Book of Mormon in Ukrainian. The Book of Mormon in Ukrainian was published in 1997.
President Gordon B. Hinckley became the first prophet to visit Ukraine in 2002 and the first stake was organized by Elder Russell M. Nelson in 2004.
A Temple in Ukraine
While presiding at the dedication of the Monticello Utah Temple, President Hinckley announced plans to build a temple in Kyiv. The Monticello Temple was the first of the new smaller temple designs to be built and numerous plans were announced at its dedication. It would be another twelve years before the temple was dedicated.
Historian Kahlile B. Mehr stated that President Hinckley visited Ukraine and selected a site for the temple in 2002 that finally met with the approval of city officials, who had not been supportive in previous years. The Church continued to wait for membership to rise and the first stake to be formed. Church members were encouraged to participate in family history work in preparation for the temple.
The groundbreaking finally took place on June 23, 2007, which also happened to be President Hinckley’s birthday. The angel Moroni statue was placed on the temple in 2009 and the dedication took place on August 29, 2010, by Thomas S. Monson.
The Church in Ukraine Today
In 2016, local members celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Church in Ukraine. Today, the Church is home to a little over 11,000 members, 8 wards, 40 branches, 1 stake, and 2 missions.
As unrest continues to unfold, this history stands as a reminder of the faith of Ukrainian saints and the power of God to move His work forward. You can read more about the history of the Church in Ukraine here.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.