Ukraine Kiev Mission


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The Cathedral of the Dormition in Kiev

The Cathedral of the Dormition in Kiev

Snapshot of Ukraine – Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, though Russian is also widely spoken (especially in the eastern and southern regions). Ukraine is a largely irreligious country, with about two-thirds of the population not adhering to any religion. The remaining population is mostly Christian, primarily belonging to various Eastern Orthodox churches. Despite the large proportion of irreligious people, Christianity still has an influence on Ukrainian life. Traditional elaborately designed Easter eggs, also called pysanky, have been made for centuries. Special meals and dishes are often prepared for Easter and Christmas, though in Ukraine Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7 as a public holiday. Textile arts, such as embroidery and weaving are still popular today. Traditional dress, music, and dances can still be seen in traditional celebrations. Rock, folk, and pop are popular musical styles today. Soccer and basketball are the most popular sports in Ukraine. Fish, cheese, and sausages are common parts of Ukrainian meals. Bread is a staple in most meals. Popular dishes include salo (cured slabs of fatback), borscht (a beetroot soup), sarma (cabbage leaves rolled around a minced meat filling), and chicken kiev.

The Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first entered Ukraine in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and missionaries were sent in June of that year. The Kiev mission was created near the end of the year, and that mission split in 1993. Today there are over 11,000 members of the Church in Ukraine in four different missions and over fifty congregations. The first temple in Ukraine was dedicated in Kiev in 2010.

The Church in the Kyiv, Mission is booming! A clear indicator of the success there is the Kyiv Temple dedicated in 2010. The Church has only been in Ukraine since 1991, so almost everyone there is a convert. All the members have incredible stories, and they treasure the Church because they remember what life was like without it. The stake in Kyiv is very strong, with seven wards and two branches. The other major cities in western Ukraine have branches that are mostly fairly small, but growing.

One of the great benefits of the Church’s small network and recent growth is the unity it creates among the saints. Whenever saints gather in wards or stakes, there is a strong sense of community and family. Everyone usually knows each other. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.

Temple in Kiev, Ukraine.

Temple in Kiev, Ukraine.

Food

Sarma, cabbage leaves rolled around a minced meat filling

Sarma, cabbage leaves rolled around a minced meat filling

The food in Ukraine can be delicious. The signature Ukrainian dish is Borsch, a soup made from beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, and usually beans and meat. They garnish the soup with dill and sour cream. Each family prides itself in having its own “secret” borsch recipe, which they eat at least a couple times a week. I’ve never heard of a missionary who didn’t like it.

Other signature foods include varenikie, or small dumplings filled with potatoes, cabbage, or a meat-and-onion mix. Desert varenikie have cherries and are served with sour cream (Smetana) and sugar. These are also a missionary favorite.

There also are a wide range of salads both prepared at home and sold ready-made in corner shops for a quick grab-and-go. As you’ve probably heard, Ukrainians eat a lot of potatoes, bread, cabbage, carrots, with some meat and vegetables. A common meal in someone’s home might be mashed potatoes, chicken patties, sliced tomatoes, and a cabbage cucumber salad. They drink lots of compote, or home-made juice, unsweetened, served either warm or room-temperature.

Some notable single food items include ice cream, juice, and chocolate. For some reason the ice cream in Ukraine is out of this world, and comes in some delicious and unusual varieties, from pistachio caramel drumsticks to cheesecake bites to logs of creamy vanilla sold in twisted-end bags like a giant piece of candy. The juice is similarly varied; white grape, peach, banana, mango, and grape apple include some hits there. They have as many juice selections as we have cereal in America.

 

Transportation

Cars are a luxury for most Ukrainians; you will only ride in one on rare occasions. Much more common are marshrutkas—small buses that hold about thirty people but often reach up to fifty. The metro in Kyiv is a primary mode of communication. Their subway system is broad and reliable. They also use long two-sectioned buses. The most common form of transportation though is your feet. You can expect to spend lots of time walking every day. Bikes also are extremely rare.

Safety

As long as you behave like a missionary, you should not have any safety issues. Sisters should be cautious about the men they talk to. Avoid talking to anyone who has been drinking. Follow the white handbook and you will be fine.

For medical emergencies, Germany is the best place to go for assistance. Other than your AIDS test, which is required for your one-year visa trip and usually takes place at a local health center, most serious medical needs are taken care of in Germany.

Customs

Ukrainians can be distanced at first but they warm up once you get to know them. They are some of the most hospitable people, and will offer you tea and cookies almost any time you enter their home. It is traditional to remove your shoes upon entering a residence, and they will provide you with tapochki, or little slippers to wear. These they store by their front door for visitors. It is also expected that you will finish whatever food you are served. And NEVER throw away bread. It is an insult to do so, stemming from the country’s history of starvation.

Local Lingo

The most common phrase you will hear on the streets of the Kyiv Mission is “Dobre dein!” (rhymes with “rain”) which means “good day!” Both Russian and Ukrainian speakers use it.

Another helpful term is “skwasnyak,” or a cross breeze. Ukrainians go to great lengths to avoid this as they believe it causes illness—even when it’s 102 degrees and humid in the summer!

“Paka” (emphasis on the second syllable) is the Russian word for “good bye,” but has been adopted into Ukrainian lingo as well. Everyone says it to each other there—when a casual phrase is appropriate.

Essential Equipment

Warm boots and a big winter coat are essential! The sell a wide variety of warm clothing there, so waiting and buying one from a “rinok,” or open market, is a good idea. Boots are also purchasable in Kyiv, as long as you go to a reliable American store, like Ecco. That store is a little hard to get to, so bringing your own boots is not a bad idea. They might have more options now since Euro 2012 happened, but that might be something worth looking more into before making a decision.

You will also want a good bag. A messenger bag (or large purse) was the solution of choice for the sisters, and a backpack was more common for the elders. I got a sore back from my bag, so in retrospect I would have preferred a backpack for that fact alone. A shoulder back does make getting onto and off of transportation easier—and safeguarding your possessions as well.

The grocery stores in Ukraine are outfitted with most necessities, albeit in different varieties. For instance, you can find bread, cereal, pasta, a decent produce section, dairy, peanut butter, milk, and personal items (TP, paper towels, soap, razors, etc.).

Additional Info

Letters take about two weeks to arrive in Ukraine, packages about three. This applies to mail sent both to and from Ukraine. Most mail is safe and few packages are lost. I didn’t have any problems as a missionary.

Flag of Ukraine Kiev Mission

Profile

Ukraine
President Kenneth B. Packer

vul. Yabluneva 1
s. Sofiivska Borshahivka
Kyevo-Svyatoshinskiy rayon
Kyiv oblast 08131,
Ukraine

Russian
45,553,000 (Jan. 2013 census)
Non-religious, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox
Relatively moderate continental climate with fairly mild winters and warm summers; average temperatures range from 21 degrees Farenheit in winter to 67 degrees F in summer.
Kiev, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Odesa

Experiences

*What items were hard to get or not available?

Peanut butter was really hard to come by and was expensive in the only store that sold it. Basic baking mixes are also nonexistent there, so any brownies or cookies will need to be made from scratch. And the sugar there is coarser than in the US, so the consistency of baked goods turns out slightly differently than you’re used to. It’s still good though.

*What did you eat the most of?

I ate a lot of cabbage, potatoes, bread, gretchka (a Ukrainian grain similar to bulgar wheat), and carrots. Fresh fruit is a bit hard to come by in the winter, but during the summer months there is plenty of delicious fruit sold on the streets and in grocery stores. They also have lots of delicious chocolate and a very wide cookie assortment.

*What is the craziest thing you ate?

The craziest thing I ate was chicken feet. I was half way through my delicious soup before I realized that the rubbery meat I was eating wasn’t meat at all! Luckily the talons were removed and I was able to gulp the rest of my soup down. Yikes!

*What was most surprising about the culture?

I was shocked by how spiritual Ukrainians are. Due to their harsh history and difficult living conditions, including poverty for many, Ukrainians can be extremely spiritually sensitive. Many, if not most, of the conversion stories I heard involved miracles, and they speak about spiritual things with more familiarity than Americans tend to. Even though many people have become hardened by their experiences and have turned away from God and religion, many people are still seeking and have spiritual experiences regularly.

*What advice would you give to someone going to the Ukraine Kiev Mission?

Enjoy every minute of it! Ukraine truly is an incredible place with a rich history, vibrant culture, and humbling and inspiring citizens. Do not let strange people scare you, and don’t talk to drunks. Otherwise, talk to everyone you can and cherish every moment! It goes by far too quickly.

*What do you wish you had known before you served?

How much fun it would be! And also how much faith it would require. I wish I had trusted the Lord more from the beginning and believed that through Him and with Him I could be successful in reaching the worthy goals I set with the counsel of my mission president and the Lord. With him, all things are possible, and he loves the people of Ukraine dearly. They are a special people!