Kyiv Temple shuts down as LDS officials urge Ukrainians to pray leaders’ hearts will be ‘softened’

“These are difficult times,” church’s European leaders say.

The presidency of the Europe East Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members in Ukraine to join with the faith’s top leaders in praying for peace — even as the faith’s Kyiv Temple shut down.

“We are aware that these are difficult times. The [governing] First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are fully aware of the current situation, and we are monitoring this situation day by day and hour by hour,” area President Hans T. Boom and his counselors, Scott D. Whiting and Kyrylo Pokhylko, wrote in a news release dated before Russia’s invasion began but circulated Thursday. “Prophets, seers and revelators pray for you and for the hearts of the leaders to be softened for peace.”

They noted, at the time, that the Utah-based faith’s temple in the capital of Kyiv remained open, though operations had been limited by the coronavirus pandemic.

Church spokesperson Sam Penrod confirmed Thursday that the temple has now closed.

“We love you all and pray that God will watch over you and protect you,” area presidency added. “We urge you to know Jesus Christ more fully: Pray daily, study the scriptures, and see his hand in your life. We know that when you come to know him, you will feel his love and the peace that only he can bring.”

Last month, the church moved its full-time missionaries out of Ukraine due to the rising tensions, temporarily reassigning them to other parts of Europe.

The 16.6 million-member faith has more than 11,000 Latter-day Saints and about 50 congregations in Ukraine, according to its website.

The church does not list its statistics for Russia, though it reportedly had about 23,000 members there in 2018 scattered among nearly 100 congregations.

President Russell M. Nelson said in spring 2018, during his first General Conference as the faith’s top leader, that the church plans to build a temple in a “major city” in Russia. A location has never been announced.

The church operates under strict government rules in Russia, where missionaries are called volunteers and are forbidden from proselytizing. They don’t wear their nametags or talk about religion outside of chapels. They can respond only to questions about their faith and can never initiate a religious conversation.