In August, I was able to go back to Ukraine for the Kyiv Ukraine Temple dedication. It was my first time back since the mission and the experience was incredible. Memories flooded back and for the first few days I felt like I walked into another life and possibly an alternate universe. Everything seemed surreal, but so familiar and almost exactly as I had left it a few years ago. I wish this post could capture all my emotions, memories, and experiences, but there is no way to put that all down in words and pictures.
The journey getting there and back was a little hectic, but I made all my connections and everything seemed to fall into place, even if it was last minute. In the 10 days I was there, I spent time in 8 different airports in 6 different countries...I was a little confused by the many languages and time changes. I left DC with a plane ticket and an address of a hostel. For those of you who know me well, know that that while I can live with a little spontaneity, I really like knowing exactly what is coming next and am quite leery of "flying by the seat of my pants," though that is exactly how it went. I was a little unsure of staying at a hostel. I had been emailing a member (who I had never met) in Kyiv who gave me the address and assured me it was a clean hostel and the Ukrainian youth performing in the cultural celebration would be staying there. As I turned off my phone to get on my transatlantic flight, I said a quick, but absolutely sincere prayer that all would work out.
Well I made it to Hamburg and onto to Warsaw (even with passport control lines that were insane and I really believed I would miss my connection to Kyiv). I randomly met up with a guy who had served with me in Ukraine. He was also heading for the dedication and had a few more of his details worked out. I decided to tag along and after arriving in Kyiv, headed to a member's house to figure out places to stay. While I waited in the airport for this new found friend, I saw another friend of mine, a Ukrainian friend. Mariya had been living in DC and was in my ward over the summer. She was coming home for the dedication. I had tried contacting her before I left the US, but we were unable to connect. At the airport she gave me her home phone number and said her parents were fine with me staying there. That's a lot of detail, but I just wanted to show how many many mini miracles happened along this trip. I needed to be in Ukraine and the path kept opening up in front of me.
The new Famine Monument. Ukraine experienced a man made famine imposed by Stalin in the 1930's. Over 6 million Ukrainians were starved to death so that Stalin could gain more strength over the region. It's a sobering part of history, but one that needs to be shared.
I spent a few days in Kyiv visiting the Temple site, churches, parks, museums, and enjoying walking Kreshatik (the main street). On Saturday I met up with my friend Eli who served with me and we attended the cultural celebration. President Monson, President Uchtdorf, Elder Nelson, and other area authorities were in attendance. The celebration focused on the history of the church in Ukraine starting with the earliest introduction of Christianity, where Ukrainians believed the Apostle Andrew was sent into the area to spread Christianity. The production showed other important events such as President (then Elder Benson) visiting Moscow while acting as the Secretary of Agriculture, the dedication of Ukraine for the preaching of the Gospel in September 1991 one month after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union, and the organization of the first stake in 2004 (which I was there for). As the events were displayed, I felt the Spirit so strongly testifying to me the truthfulness of the Gospel. The Lord has blessed this land and it is very humbling and overwhelming to think that in a very small way, I was part of the building of the Church in Ukraine. The event was spectacular. In addition to the festivities I met up with many members I had served among and even found a senior couple I had taught in the MTC.
Natasha Fihel (member in Chernivtsi-my first area)
Ira Demchenko (member in Chernivtsi)
Here I'm with Elder and Sister Thatcher who I taught in the MTC at the Cultural Celebration. All the missionaries in the mission were present.
Sunday I attended the Temple dedication at the Stake Center adjacent to the Temple. The dedication was beautiful and the Ukrainian and Russian saints in attendance were thrilled to be part of such an event.
The girls from Chernivtsi
Irina Sinegub, my companion in L'viv. Irina is from Central Ukraine.
Sunday night, I hopped a night train to L'viv. For those of you who received letters from me know that I served almost half my mission in L'viv. L'viv is a beautiful city. It's a city that has had many ruling countries over years due to war and borders changes, but even with the changes, the city has been fairly well preserved. I spent two days in L'viv exploring the city and visiting members and old investigators. It was fantastic! One thing I LOVE about L'viv is that people actually speak Ukrainian!!! It's so great to understand and be understood. Amazing! After two days in L'viv, I took another night train back to Kyiv to fly out the next day.
L'viv Opera House
The new branch house in L'viv, with two elders I had served with in L'viv. We each planned our trips separately, but met up in Ukraine.
Oksanna Kravchenko, a member who I had taught and got baptized in L'viv.
Ploshka!!! My favorite Ukrainian sweet bread. This seriously is heaven!
The trip was absolutely incredible. This post does not do justice to all the experiences and emotions I went through in my ten days. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to go back to Ukraine and to be there at such an important and memorable time. I needed this trip.