Young Ukrainian Latter-day Saints sought for opportunities to serve as missionaries soon after the Church was established in their country in 1991. Some were quickly called as missionaries beginning in 1992. Others helped missionaries serving in their branches. Between 1993 and 1994, as many as 30 Church members at a time took part in a district missionary program in Kyiv. Among their number was Vasyl Osipenko, a young athlete who joined the Church in 1992. “I wanted to serve on a mission even before my baptism,” he later explained. As a district missionary, he served side by side with full-time missionaries, sharing the gospel on the streets and in homes.
In early 1994, the Ukraine Kyiv Mission called several young Ukrainians to serve for about a month in Odesa. The first branches had been established there in 1993, but now foreign missionaries needed to leave due to visa problems. Not wanting to abandon branches and the people preparing for baptism, mission president Howard Biddulph asked 10 young adults to take the place of the full-time missionaries. Oleksandr Kikhno, one of the young men asked to go, responded, “Sure, I wish to go. But I can’t because I don’t have the Melchizedek Priesthood, and I’m only seventeen.” President Biddulph did not see a problem and said, “We will fix that right here! Sit down.”
A day after being ordained an elder, Oleksandr and his peers left for Odesa. Svitlana Kigim, one of the sisters in Odesa, remembered, “It was a little bit strange in the beginning, but I loved the people there very much.” The district missionaries’ love and diligence was evident when President Biddulph visited a month later. He found that they had prepared for baptism many of the people the full-time missionaries had been teaching and found new people to teach. “I was so proud of them!” Biddulph wrote. “It was then that I realized with joy that the future of the Church in Ukraine is secure and bright.”
Most of the district missionaries in Odesa went on to serve full-time missions in Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere. Their experiences in Odesa and then as full-time missionaries prepared them for future service as Church leaders, including Relief Society presidents, bishops, and stake presidents.