Gray skies loomed over Kyiv, Ukraine, on the morning of September 12, 1991, as Oleksandr Manzhos and a handful of other Latter-day Saints left their homes to attend a small outdoor meeting with Elders Boyd K. Packer and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. For Oleksandr and the others, it would be their first opportunity to hear an Apostle. They were all recent converts, taught and baptized by some of the first missionaries in Ukraine.
Oleksandr had met the very first missionaries in Ukraine, Ivan Stratov and Brian Bradbury, in the fall of 1990 after a phone call from his aunt. “There are two young Americans here,” she said, not realizing that Stratov was Australian. “They are very hungry. Let them come over to your place, and feed them.” The young men turned out to be as hungry as they were eager to share the restored gospel. Oleksandr, like many Ukrainians, had been raised without religion in the Soviet era, but the missionaries’ message changed his heart. He was baptized in early 1991 and had become one of the leaders of the small group of Saints gathering that September morning.
Gathered at Volodymyr Hill, Oleksandr, the Kyiv Saints, and missionaries could see the Dnipro River and the Left Bank of the sprawling city laid out before them. They learned Elder Packer would offer a special prayer to dedicate the land of Ukraine for the preaching of the restored gospel, which had already taken root in hearts like Oleksandr’s. As Elder Packer quoted the hymn “The Morning Breaks” while praying, the clouds parted, briefly letting rays of morning sunlight fall upon the hillside. Elder Packer said the day would come when many thousands of Ukrainians would embrace the restored gospel and declared that “in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land.”
Saints like Oleksandr would see the blessings promised in that morning prayer take shape in the coming years. In 1996 Oleksandr was called as a mission president in Ukraine, and he helped spread the gospel in cities in Eastern Ukraine. He was also called as Ukraine’s first Area Authority Seventy and witnessed the creation of the country’s first stake in 2004 and the dedication of a temple in Kyiv in 2010.