When the Kyiv Ukraine Temple was dedicated in August 2010, it made history not just because it was the first LDS temple in the former Soviet Union, but because not since the earliest days of the Church in Kirtland had a country seen so little time pass between its introduction to the gospel and its receipt of a temple.
When President Thomas S. Monson dedicated the temple in Kyiv, not quite two decades had elapsed since the first LDS missionaries set foot in Ukraine. Elders Ivan Stratov and Brian Bradbury, both serving in the Finland Helsinki East Mission, were called upon in October 1990 to put their Russian language skills to use by preaching to the people of Kyiv.1
The first Ukrainian member of the Church was baptized a month later, and from there the work grew steadily. While still a part of the Austria Vienna East Mission, about 160 people in Kyiv were baptized in 1991 by a missionary force that grew to ten by that summer and up to twenty-three by the end of the year.2
While the Soviet Union's demise wasn't official until December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev's reformist policies of the late 1980s officially softened things enough that many occupied countries began testing the waters of independence. In Ukraine, two cities celebrated Ukrainian independence day in 1989, and in the spring of 1990, the country held its own parliamentary elections. Religious freedom was the next logical step, and within months LDS missionaries entered a vast span of Eurasia that had long been closed to the gospel.
The Church moved cautiously at first. The missionary force in Ukraine was built slowly and methodically, and for months missionaries proselytized without name tags, as the Church had not yet been officially recognized in Kyiv.3
By the fall of 1991, a Communist Party coup to oust Gorbachev had failed and many former Soviet republics – including Ukraine – had declared independence. Within three weeks, the Church was registered in Kyiv and Elders Boyd K. Packer and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve had traveled to Ukraine and dedicated the land for missionary work. Membership continued to grow, and in February 1992 the Ukraine Kyiv Mission was organized with thirty-three missionaries and 200 members of the Church in four branches. Just over a year later, in July 1993, the mission was divided, creating the Ukraine Donetsk Mission in the eastern part of the country.4
Initially, missionary work in Ukraine happened entirely in Russian. A Russian translation of the Book of Mormon had been published in 1981, and decades of Russian political domination meant many Ukrainians, especially in the eastern part of the country, were fluent in that language. The people's native language, however, was Ukrainian, and the Church moved quickly to bring the people the gospel in their own tongue.
Just as the Kyiv mission was organized, translation missionaries were called to serve in Ukraine. Steven and Jean Struk were natives of Ukraine whose families had immigrated to Canada in their childhoods, and by March 1992 they were back in their native country working to put together facilities and a team to translate the Book of Mormon into Ukrainian.5 The initial translation was completed in a year and a half, and by 1997 the Ukrainian Book of Mormon had been published.6 The first Ukrainian-speaking missionaries were called in 1996, opening up the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking western part of the country to missionary work. Today, most missionaries called to Ukraine teach in Ukrainian.7
As missionary work progressed and moved to cities outside Kyiv, local members registered the Church in their hometowns. In time, Church leaders moved to gain official status for the Church on a national level. In order to comply with Ukrainian law, Aleksander Manzhos was appointed the Church's representative in Ukraine, and registration was granted in 1996.8
As early as 1992, Ukrainian converts in Kyiv organized trips to Freiberg, Germany, to attend the temple. There was legal red tape, the cost was enormous, and the Saints spent two days and two nights, each way, traveling more than 2,000 miles to and from the temple, but subsequent trips followed as Ukrainian members sought the blessings of the temple.9
Then, in July 1998, less than ten years after the fall of Communism, a temple for Ukraine was announced. It would be almost a decade before ground was broken and twelve years before the edifice was completed and dedicated. By that time, a third mission – the Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk Mission – had been opened, in July 2007, and the first Ukrainian stake had been organized, in Kyiv, in 2004.10
As of April 2011, LDS membership in Ukraine stood at 10,880 in sixty-two congregations across the country.11
In a letter home from Ukraine in 1993, translation missionaries Steven and Jean Struk told their family and friends that something special indeed was happening in their native country.
“Just to say that the growth [of the Church] is a reaction to a terrible and repressive system out of which they are coming is not enough to explain what is going on in the hearts of the people in the Ukraine and other countries,” they wrote. “It is wonderful to watch these people struggle to change their lives and live the commandments.”12
“The spirituality of the people who join the Church is very high,” Steven Struk said in an interview after his mission was complete. “The Holy Ghost is operative like we have never seen it in operation.”13
In 1945, when Ukraine was part of the Russia-dominated Soviet Union, LDS Church President George Albert Smith called that part of the world “one of the most fruitful fields for the teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“If I am not mistaken,” he prophesied, “it will not be long before the people who are there will desire to know something about this work which has reformed the lives of so many people. We have some few from that land, who belong to the Church, fine, capable individuals who may be called to go, when the time comes, back to the homeland of their parents, and deliver the message that is so necessary to all mankind.”14
When the Kyiv Ukraine Temple was dedicated by President Thomas S. Monson in August 2010, it stood not only as a witness of that fruitful field that President Smith foresaw, but as a speedy fulfillment of the words of Boyd K. Packer's 1991 dedicatory prayer:
“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 the Ukraine,” then-Elder Packer said. “And in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land."15
When due time came, members of the Church in Ukraine were overjoyed at having a temple in their midst and optimistic about what it would mean for their country.
Vladimir Kanchenko, the first stake president in Ukraine, said his country would be blessed by the dedication of the temple.
“After the temple is dedicated,” he said, “I know we will be better people, better members.”16
Ivan Stratov, who was one of the first two missionaries to bring the gospel to Ukraine, said seeing the temple dedicated there was like a dream.
“To think how the Lord has blessed these people,” he said, “how the strength of the gospel has just permeated their souls and led to this. … These blessings that Elder Packer talked about, sometimes you don't think of them necessarily like, this is really going to happen. It's a hope, it's a belief, it's something we'll work toward, but will it really, actually happen? And yet it has happened.”17