Reflections on a Mission to Ukraine

Note: On 24 January 2022 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it was “temporarily reassigning full-time missionaries assigned to both the Ukraine Dnipro and Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova missions to locations outside of Ukraine … and a few missionaries who are approaching their planned release date will complete their missionary service and return home.” In light of recent events, I asked Thomas Christensen, who belonged to the latter group, to reflect on his mission experience.

Looking out over the frozen Dnieper River on the day we were evacuated from Ukraine

I returned from my mission in Ukraine at the end of January. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was only able to serve in the Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova Mission from May 2021 to January 2022; the first 15 months of my mission were spent in Utah. 

I loved serving in Ukraine and Moldova. The people there are so resilient and amazing. It was hard to deal with the pandemic and all the restrictions, but the members would testify so often of how the Lord blessed them and their families as they tried to remain faithful.

At the end of 2021, there were some whisperings among the missionaries that Russia might invade. When I would ask the members what they thought, they would tell me that Ukraine has been dealing with a Russian invasion since 2014 and that they weren’t afraid to fight for Ukraine.

One of the important lessons I learned from the Ukrainians and Moldovans is that God recognizes sacrifice. While serving in two branch presidencies, I was touched when I saw how members would give the equivalent of $3 in tithing and tell me that they had saved to be able to donate 50 cents for fast offerings; I know that they were blessed mightily for that sacrifice. They don’t have much, but they do the Lord’s work with what they have.

Going to such a poor [fn1] part of the world definitely gave me a new perspective on the goodness of God. Before my mission it was easy to miss blessings in my normal, busy life, but the members in my mission were more in tune with the ways God would bless them and would rejoice over every blessing. I spoke with one young woman who was excited about the possibility of going to the temple as a family. Her father had been gone for the last couple months, working in a different country, and now they would finally have an opportunity to visit the temple for the first time since she had turned 12, four years ago. Going to the temple is such a small thing for me in the US—it’s just an hour’s drive away—but members in my mission had gone years without visiting the temple before one was dedicated in Kyiv in 2010 [fn2], and even now a trip to the temple remains a sacrifice in Europe’s second-largest country.

Since returning home I have been watching the situation in Ukraine closely. The few remaining native Ukrainian missionaries are sheltering in the apartments at the Kyiv temple. I have been talking to friends, checking in on them and asking how things are going from their perspectives. I asked one of my friends how his family is doing while he is studying abroad. He said that they had no place to go and were planning the extraordinary step of fighting back if necessary with Molotov cocktails, which his family had spent part of last weekend making.

Others have told me about how Sunday meetings and activities through the week have become vital times for them to check on and strengthen each other. No one I know has been close to any of the fighting yet, but they have told me about hearing distant gunfire and explosions. Still, they remain hopeful for the future of their country.

Independence Square in Kyiv, a center of Ukrainian independence and political protest

If you are interested in helping, consider joining the First Presidency in praying for peace. Pray for Ukraine, the people and its leaders. There are so many other ways to help too. The following links collected by news organizations may give you additional ideas about what you can do from the US and the UK to help the people in Ukraine:

Слава Украина! Героям Слава!

  • Footnote 1: The GDP per capita in Ukraine and Moldova is only 1/15th of that in the US.
  • Footnote 2: Prior to the dedication of the Kyiv temple, members in Ukraine were assigned to the Freiberg Germany temple, 1500 km from Kyiv. 


  1. Allan Garber says:

    The leaders of our church should have the courage to condemn the atrocities that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine.

  2. Old Man says:

    Have you considered the potential blowback from such an announcement?

  3. Allan Garber says:

    They didn’t condemn Hitler and look what happened to Huebner. Do what is right let the consequence follow.

  4. C. Keen says:

    Let the consequences follow for the saints in Russia? That seems like a poor choice. I vote for keeping more people alive at the cost of making fewer ineffectual statements.

  5. Allan Garber says:

    Keeping more people alive? Have you been watching the news?? The people of Ukraine are being systematically and brutally killed.

  6. Richard says:

    I agree with all of you, a strong denouncing message would fit, however it will probably not change the hurt that is now inflicted on the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. It could mean there will be dire consequences for the russian members. I trust God and believe the church leaders follow His guidance, even if I personally don’t understand the reasons I have to believe God knows.

  7. Allan, I like a principled stand as much as anyone, but it’s also obvious that the church has to be mindful of its status in Russia and its members in Russia when considering what it wants to tell an autocratic leader with a poor human rights record. If Russian members of the church want to stand up and make their views known, that’s another matter entirely. They know the risks, and they are the ones who have skin in the game. A principled stand would be meaningful coming from them in a way that it would not be coming from leaders safely ensconced in their offices in Salt Lake. In my view, the general authorities should defer to the local leadership on this issue.

  8. C. Keen says:

    Allan, strongly worded statements will do nothing to keep people alive. Tell your government representatives to send more guns, bombs, and fighter aircraft if you want to make a difference. Save your outrage for the people who are in a position to do something useful.

  9. Mortimer says:

    The church’s announcement could have used the word “UKRAINE”, even once. It was so overly careful- it did not. I roll my eyes thinking that they built in that much plausible deniability. What were they thinking? That some poor church liaison would be confronted by an offended Russian gatekeeper and have the “out” to say “oh, oh- we didn’t say ‘Ukraine’ because, we’ll, um between you and me we were really talking about Myanmar.” I loathe the fact that the church is always talking in code, always giving winks and nods and dog whistles. And then they either deny that they’ve been involved or get frustrated when the members run off cliffs.

    While we’re on the subject-the announcement only called this an “armed conflict” instead of the correct term “war”. Many suffering UKR saints were hurt by that denial- which was either ignorance to their plight or an out-right refusal to acknowledge the severity of the situation. That stings.

    It feels like the statement was written by committee- and too many people at the table wanted their way, giving too many constricting requirements which were then dictated to some poor PR department wordsmith. They essentially built the diplomatic equivalent of an Edsel.

  10. purple_flurp says:

    A statement condemning those responsible for the conflict would be great, but that opens them up to places that the Church doesn’t want to go. I doubt the church made any such statements on the US invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. As well as all of the other violence the USA continues to fuel and perpetuate in other countries (like Yemen). All such conflicts were also predicated on the flimsiest of justifications, just like Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine.

    They should condemn all such acts regardless of which country carries it out. I doubt they’ll do it though. American exceptionalism is baked into the Church leadership’s worldview.

  11. Late comment for Pete:

    Have you considered joining the international army to help save Ukraine?

    If this was happening after I was a missionary in Japan, I would go there, already. I served in the military in the 1980’s. I am past retirement age and have coronary stents. I am seriously thinking of joining the fight for Ukraine. We are closer to nuclear holocaust than ever before, including the Cuban missile crisis.

    My kids are grown, My career is over. I have squirreled away a few million of treasure on earth for inflation and taxes to corrupt. My ward’s near total lack of a sensible response to COVID wrecked any desire I have to give them my heart, soul and much time. They don’t want it. I have sat around for the last 2 years worrying about slowly suffocating with a tube in my throat. There are better ways to die and one of them is in battle for a worth while cause.

    I can shoot a rifle pretty darn straight. I could drive a car like a maniac in the snow when I was young. I have 30 years of camping experience with boy scouts. I can run a 10 kg in almost an hour and do 50 push ups. I am pretty cold tolerant and can eat most anything. I am extremely gifted at telling stories. I bet they could find something for me to do. Why not me?

    How about the rest of you guys? Any excuses?

  12. Have you considered joining the international army to help save Ukraine?

    I have, actually. On the plus side, I’m in decent shape for my age and handy enough with small arms. I also feel pretty strongly about the righteousness of the cause. On the negative side, I have no relevant training. If they let people like me join the fray, I shudder to think who I would end up next to. So given the odds of ending up as cannon fodder, or being treated as a terrorist, I’m not going to act on this impulse.

  13. Thank you. There is so little information on the status of the Ukrainian saints or temple. Except for the general “concern” issued by the Church, the topic of how the Saints are doing or the fact that the fault for this lies on Russia has been avoided. I don’t understand that.

  14. loraine Theresa Rawson says:

    War Pig, what would be the point. Your death would change nothing, ever. The world would be short of War Pig. All wars are lost to the dead.

  15. Geoff - Aus says:

    Can someone please supply the Ukranians with missiles aimed at the Kremlin. Perhaps warpig could take some with him.

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