Russian police officers arrested two Latter-day Saint volunteers in a church meetinghouse on Friday, March 1, with the Deseret News reporting the pair being currently detained in Novorossiysk, a city 930 miles south of Moscow.
"While we are grateful these young men are reportedly in good condition and are being treated well, we are troubled by the circumstances surrounding their detention," said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "They have both spoken to their parents. We will continue to work with local authorities and encourage the swift release of these volunteers."
A Deseret News reporter spoke with the father of one of the volunteers, whose names have not been released. The father reported the two young men as doing well.
He added that the president of the Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission — where the two are assigned — traveled to Novorossiysk and has met daily with the volunteers. On Monday, March 4, he was allowed to bring his cellphone into the detention facility, with the volunteers then calling home.
"We’re doing a little better," the father, who lives in the United States told the Deseret News reporter. "We talked with the elders, with our son, yesterday, last night. … It was such a relief and so nice. It was really, really a sweet moment. I think he is fine. He told us that they are fine. They’re getting food."
Because Russian officials believed the volunteers were teaching English without a license, the court was not able to resolve the issue, which likely means the two men will remain in detention throughout the week.
When Russia implemented an anti-terrorism law in July 2016, it included a provision banning public missionary work. In complilng with the provision, the Church redesignated young missionaries in the country as volunteers, directing them to follow the stipulation that all proselyting occur in houses of worship.
Since then, Russia has banned or deported several missionaries, who were subsequently re-assigned to neighboring Russian-speaking missions.
The church has continued to provide volunteers in the country to support its congregations.