The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is very new in Kiev, Ukraine. The first branch, Tsentralny (Central) Branch, was organized in 1991. Kirill Kiriluk (6) and Tanya Holosho (5) have become best friends by attending Primary together there. They are eager to learn about Heavenly Father and Jesus.
Life has changed greatly in Ukraine. Kirill’s mother, Dina, and Tanya’s mother, Yelena, grew up under a government called Communism. There was no democracy or freedom. The government told the people what to do, and people who wanted to attend church had to do so in secret.
In 1985, a new attitude called glasnost (openness) was introduced by the president of the Soviet Union, In 1991, Ukraine, which had been part of the Soviet Union, became an independent country. The people could worship openly, and they were hungry for religion. Latter-day Saint missionaries soon began preaching the gospel in Kiev, baptizing converts in the Dniepr River. Now the Church is sending even more missionaries there. Kirill and Tanya will grow up in a world different from that of their parents.
The Kiev Tsentralny Branch is quite small. It shrinks even more during the summer, when some members spend weekends at their dachas (summer cottages) in the country. There they garden and get away from the 2.5 million people living in apartments in the Ukrainian capital.
Kirill lives in a small apartment in a big complex some distance away from church. Tanya and her mother, father, and older sister live in another part of Kiev. The families travel to each other’s houses and to church, using public transportation like the metro (subway) or the trolley. Few people own cars.
Kirill’s apartment building has a playground in the backyard, where Kirill and Tanya play on the slide. Kirill also has fun climbing a nearby tree.
Tsentralny Branch meets in the House of Trade Unions Building near a large fountain in the center of the city. One Sunday in August 1992, three members of the Church from the United States visited the branch. Usually ten to fifteen children attend Primary. On this particular day, though, only five were present: Kirill, Tanya, Denise (10), Slyic (5), and Yaraslav (4).
During Primary singing time, the children learned the words and actions to “Book of Mormon Stories.” Sister Norton, a missionary from California, taught the lesson. She explained the importance of asking for a blessing on the food before eating a meal. She asked the children about their favorite foods. Tanya and Slyic like soup. Denise likes pineapple but only gets it occasionally because it is very expensive. Yaraslav enjoys bananas and watermelon. Kirill likes bananas and borscht (beet soup). Bananas cost so much that his mother must save money to buy one.
After church, Kirill’s mother welcomed their new American friends to their home. She played the piano and sang some Ukrainian songs. The adults ate breads, drank herbal tea, and chatted. Sister Wein from East Germany and Sister Norton translated for them. The two children ate bread and played.
Tanya’s and Kirill’s mothers were thrilled to be able to invite Americans into their homes and allow them to take photos without worrying about getting in trouble with the police. Under Communism, friendly visits with foreigners were not allowed.
Because Kirill and Tanya’s mothers are teachers, they are helping their children learn to read. Some parents teach their youngsters to read before they begin school. Usually children in Ukraine start school at age seven.
A little over a month before Kirill was born, in April 1986, a terrible nuclear accident occurred at Chernobyl, sixty miles from Kiev. Many children were taken in buses from town to camps to protect them from radiation. Kirill’s mother went to the country too. She was afraid he would be born with serious problems. When he was born a month early, his mother asked the doctor, “Does he have hands and legs?” She was relieved to learn that he did. Tanya has trouble with her eyes and has had three operations on them. Her mother doesn’t know if this was caused by the Chernobyl accident or not.
Because the people of Kiev are learning about the gospel and about democracy, their lives are changing. Tanya and Kirill are happy that the missionaries are in their city. Now a few missionaries from Ukraine are beginning to serve in other countries as well. When Kirill and Tanya grow up, perhaps they, too, will share the gospel in other parts of the world.