KIEV, Ukraine From humble beginnings in 1991, when a few scattered missionaries first began teaching the gospel in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, membership of the Church in Ukraine has steadily grown.
Now 13 years later, with 8,500 mostly first-generation members who have known only branches and districts, the Kiev (Kyiv) Ukraine Stake was organized May 30 by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve.
The milestone moment was not lost on members of the Kiev District. On a day of sunny, blue skies, more than 1,100 members and friends gathered in the October Palace of Culture to sustain Vladimir Kanchenko, the former district president, as president of the stake, with Alexsandr Davydov as first counselor, and Viktor Vaschenko as second counselor. Alexsii Ivanenko was called as stake patriarch.
In his comments, Elder Nelson recalled President Ezra Taft Benson charging him with responsibility for those nations whose doors had been closed to the gospel because of communism a task, he said, that was too large for him, but not for the Lord.
During the next years, after several visits to the former Soviet Union, he reported to the First Presidency that the new Russian Federation allowed the Church to be recognized in Russia in 1991. The Lord was able to do His own work, Elder Nelson said. "The Lord had accomplished the miracle."
Also during the conference, seven wards were organized and the bishops sustained. A high council was also sustained.
In his comments, Elder Nelson said, "Now you take your place among the stakes of Zion. You are now part of the heart of the Church." He told of a conversation he had with President Gordon B. Hinckley prior to the conference and how he was asked to convey the president's love for the members in Ukraine.
Elder Nelson blessed the members to love their neighbors as Christ loves them, that they share the gospel with others, that many more stakes might be organized, and that they prepare for the temple by performing their family history work.
Elder Douglas L. Callister, president of the Europe East Area who accompanied Elder Nelson, said, "Heaven came down and kissed the city of Kiev today." The purpose of a stake, he reminded the members, was to empower them as a people and make them independent of the world.
Elder Aleksandr Manzhos, an Area Authority Seventy and one of the first members in Ukraine, reminded his fellow Ukrainians that they had made a decision to join the Church and they were now experiencing the fruits of that decision.
President William West of the Ukraine Kiev Mission said the stake would bring spiritual maturity to the people and blessings beyond what they had enjoyed.
In his comments, President Kanchenko said, "I feel the Lord loves us and with the formation of this stake, the formation of other stakes will follow. Through our faith and meekness, He will give us revelations and strength to accomplish this, and He will enhance our ability to be truly brothers and sisters."
Following the conference, on a large portico overlooking the Maidan Freedom Square, members lingered to visit with one another and share in the joy of the occasion. Farther below on the street, thousands of Ukrainians celebrated the day of Pentecost, as marked by the Orthodox calendar.
"I don't remember a word that was said," said Natalya Shalyakin of the meeting in which the stake was formed. "But I can remember having this great feeling of joy poured out upon me."
The first missionary activity in Ukraine began in October 1991. The Ukraine Kiev Mission was organized Feb. 3, 1992, with Howard L. Biddulph as president. There were 35 missionaries in 1992 to serve the entire country.
The first branch in Kiev was organized in June 1991. A second mission, the Ukraine Donetsk Mission, was organized in July 1993. Membership was 1,700 in 1993 and 3,100 in 1995. By 1999, membership was 6,369.
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Contributions to this report were made by Elder Mark Baer and the Europe East Area Public Affairs office.