Diaspora

LDS church 'deeply concerned' about Russian invasion in Ukraine after evacuating missionaries – The Arizona Republic

Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesperson Sam Penrod.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Friday said its leadership was “heartbroken and deeply concerned” by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a month after its missionaries were evacuated from the area.
The church has members in each of the areas affected by the war, which started with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of a military operation in eastern Ukraine during a televised address overnight on Wednesday.
Since then, scores of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed or injured as Russian forces advance toward the capital of Kyiv.
Even in the midst of ongoing violence, the First Presidency of the church said in a news release that “enduring peace can be found through Jesus Christ.”
“We pray that this armed conflict will end quickly, that the controversies will end peacefully and that peace will prevail among nations and within our own hearts,” the statement read. “We plead with world leaders to seek for such resolutions and peace.” 
The Kremlin on Friday said it was ready to hold talks “once the Ukrainian Armed Forces respond to our president’s call, end their resistance and lay down their arms.” 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted on Saturday that a “new day on the diplomatic frontline” had begun after speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron. Zelenskyy said “weapons and equipment from our partners” were on their way to Ukraine, and followed that statement with a series of tweets describing conversations with world leaders and thanking various countries for their support and aid.
“The anti-war coalition is working!” Zelenskyy said on Saturday.
President Joe Biden announced sanctions that he said would punish Russia for its war waged “without provocation, without justification, without necessity.” 
Biden also vowed to make Putin a “pariah on the international stage.” 
On Jan. 24, the LDS church said it was “temporarily reassigning” full-time missionaries assigned to the Ukraine Dnipro and Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova missions to areas outside of the country. 
The move was made out of an “abundance of caution” as government embassies at that point were preparing to relocate personnel, the church said. Earlier in February, the United States evacuated its embassy in Kyiv as officials warned of an imminent invasion.
Many of the missionaries were reassigned to other locations across Europe while a “few” who were approaching their planned release date were expected to complete their service and return to the United States, church spokesperson Sam Penrod said in a news release
Some of the missionaries were expected to be reassigned to Moldova, which the church at the time said was “away from any potential conflict areas.” 
“We pray for a peaceful resolution to the tensions in Ukraine and look forward to when the missionaries may return,” Penrod said.
When asked whether church members from Arizona were affected by the decision, spokesperson Jennifer Wheeler said the church’s missionary department doesn’t release information on hometowns of evacuated missionaries as a matter of practice. 
The first LDS missionaries arrived in Kyiv in 1990, according to the church.
The first LDS stake in eastern Europe was organized in Kyiv in 2004. The Kyiv Temple, the first LDS temple in eastern Europe, was dedicated in 2010.
Dozens of missionaries in Ukraine were reassigned to other locations around the country and later sent back to their home countries in 2014 as Russian forces invaded and later annexed the Crimean peninsula.
The LDS church has 48 congregations and more than 11,000 members in Ukraine, according to the church website.
In November, 60 LDS missionaries in Ethiopia were temporarily transferred to neighboring Kenya due to “growing concerns about civil unrest” after a year of conflict in the region that started in late 2020.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 prompted the church to send thousands of missionaries back to their home countries for reassignment or release.
Over the years, LDS missionaries have also been evacuated from countries including Bolivia, Haiti and Albania as a result of civil unrest. 
Reach the reporter at bfrank@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8529.  Follow her on Twitter @brieannafrank
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