Rising tensions prompt LDS Church to move its missionaries out of Ukraine

Many will move to Moldova or elsewhere in Europe.

(Efrem Lukatsky | The Associated Press)A bird flies near the 1,000-year old Orthodox Monastery of Caves covered with the first snow of this winter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is moving its missionaries out of the country as Ukraine's tensions with Russia rise.

Amid uncertainty in Ukraine, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “temporarily reassigning [its] full-time missionaries” to locations outside the country.

The move was made “out of an abundance of caution, as some government embassies in Ukraine are preparing to move certain personnel and their family members,” church spokesman Sam Penrod said Monday in a news release. Many of these proselytizers in the Dnipro and Kyiv/Moldova missions “are being reassigned to missions in Europe, and a few missionaries who are approaching their planned release date will complete their missionary service and return home.”

Young Latter-day Saint proselytizers “who have recently been called to Ukraine will receive a temporary assignment elsewhere,” Penrod said. “Some missionaries will serve in Moldova, which is away from any potential conflict areas.”

The change is “not surprising,” said independent demographer Matt Martinich, a Latter-day Saint living in Colorado Springs who tracks church growth. “Once you see the American Embassy moving its staff out, the church usually follows suit.”

Ever since 2014, Martinich said, when the Utah-based faith moved or released nearly two dozen of its missionaries there — for similar reasons — Ukraine hasn’t been “good for the church.”

There are about 48 congregations and 11,000 Latter-day Saints across the vast country, with the majority living in the capital of Kyiv, the researcher said, “with a smattering of members in other cities.”

There is a temple in Kyiv, which was dedicated in 2010 by then-church President Thomas S. Monson, who called it a “landmark in the maturation of Eastern Europe.” Hundreds of Latter-day Saints attended one of three dedication sessions of the building, which members view as the House of the Lord.

“There is a nice spirit here among you,” Monson said as he ceremoniously put the cornerstone in place in Kyiv. “I’m sensitive to the Spirit. I feel it today. There is no place else I would rather be.”

At the end of Monday’s release, Penrod said, “We pray for a peaceful resolution to the tensions in Ukraine and look forward to when the missionaries may return.”