“‘Standing All Amazed’ in Ukraine,” Ensign, June 1997, 76–77
“Earlier in my life the word pioneer was connected with communist ideology,” says Alla Bondarenko of the Voskresensky Branch, Kiev Ukraine Left Bank District. “I never expected I could become a pioneer in a different sense. But it turned out a new world still existed for me.”
Sister Bondarenko is among more than 4,000 people who have joined the Church in Ukraine. She recently completed a mission in Siberia, Russia, and today she serves as a stake missionary and as a counselor in the Primary presidency in her branch.
“I was astonished with the gospel’s beauty and purity,” Sister Bondarenko says. “This Church is where pure-hearted people are, where there is justice and charity. Latter-day Saint pioneers from Ukraine need not overcome rapid rivers, rocky mountains, and deserts. Here we have different obstacles. The gospel helps us overcome them.”
The second-largest country in Europe, Ukraine has been called the breadbasket of Europe because of its many fertile farms. Christianity was introduced in A.D. 988, and about 80 percent of today’s 53 million Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians. As a result of gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine is now governed democratically and is enjoying a renaissance of Ukrainian culture and language.
The Church has gained a foothold quickly in Ukraine. The first Ukrainian baptisms took place in late 1990. The Kiev Branch was formed in June 1991, with members initially meeting just opposite a building recently vacated by the Communist Party’s central committee. Elders Boyd K. Packer and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated Ukraine on 12 September 1991 for the preaching of the gospel. Missionary work officially began in October 1991, and the Ukraine Kiev Mission was created on 3 February 1992.
Just six years after missionary work began, the Kiev mission has 23 branches divided into 3 districts. A newer mission headquartered in Donetsk and presided over by Ukrainian citizen Alexander Manzhos has 19 branches organized into 2 districts. Ukrainian members have made numerous trips to the Freiberg Germany Temple, where some 900 members have been endowed and 40 families sealed. More than 60 Ukrainian members have served full-time missions throughout the world, and last year 262 students were registered in 32 seminary and institute classes throughout Ukraine.
Valentina Chemezova and her two sons were baptized in 1992 by her husband, Serhiy. “Everything in the Church is important,” she says. “Sacrament meeting, temple recommends, family home evening, seminary and institute classes, home teaching, singing hymns—the list goes on. These things help us be confident and quiet, merciful and attentive. They help us develop our talents and receive answers to the eternal questions at the center of all philosophical searches.” Sister Chemezova took part in the Ukrainian translation of the Book of Mormon and today serves as a Church Educational System district coordinator.
“My life used to be a strange mixture of cynicism, sentimentality, good desires, dishonesty, slothfulness, glimpses of industry, and many other contradictory things,” says Vadim Malishkevich, president of the Obolonsky Branch, Kiev Central district. “Before I met the missionaries, I asserted that life was a pool of hopeless boredom and hardships where people tried to entertain themselves as they could. On 8 March 1992, the person I used to be was happily changed. Looking back, I can’t help standing all amazed at the love the Lord has offered me.”
From any vantage point, the growth of the gospel in Ukraine is remarkable.