Anna Chigir's everyday life in Ukraine has never included the opportunity to rub shoulders with the top authorities of her church.
But this week, everyday life changed.
"I was so excited and canceled everything so I could be here," she said of the visit to Ukraine and Russia by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "He is an apostle and a servant of God, and we don't see apostles in our country very often."
President Uchtdorf was the first member of the church's First Presidency ever to visit the Ural region of Russia, and LDS faithful traveled up to eight hours by car and 1,000 miles to see him. About 600 faithful gathered in Yekaterinburg for a meeting they considered both historic and a blessing, according to statements and information released by the church.
The Ural Mountains sometimes are called "the Gates of Siberia," President Uchtdorf said. "You are the gates to the future of the church. You are true pioneers in the best sense of the word, and others will follow. Generations to come will praise your name because you are not ashamed of the gospel and you did not have fear."
The LDS Church organized in Russia in late 1989 and now has nearly 20,000 members. In Ukraine, where the church has been since 1991, there are nearly 10,000 members.
President Uchtdorf was joined by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the church's Quorum of the Twelve on his weeklong, four-city tour of the two countries, visiting with members, the church's missionaries and government leaders and stopping by the construction site of the first LDS temple in Eastern Europe.
"I can feel your goodness and the Spirit of Christ," Elder Andersen said as he addressed hundreds of church members gathered in Moscow. "I feel courage from you. Each of us comes to the church from different circumstances. We are all sons and daughters of God. He loves all of us."
President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen began their journey in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 27, then moved on to Russia's Samara last Friday, Yekaterinburg on Sunday and Moscow on Monday.
They are scheduled to leave Moscow Thursday for London on their return trip to Salt Lake City.
The two leaders observed the nearly complete Kiev Ukraine Temple, where they received the traditional Ukrainian greeting of bread and salt. The temple was announced on July 20, 1998, but not started until nearly a decade later, with ground broken on June 23, 2007.
"The temple will be a blessing to Ukraine," said Elder Andersen during the visit, adding "people will join the church here by the hundreds and thousands."
Near the temple site, President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen visited Kiev's Automated Diagnostical Center, a medical clinic providing diagnostic services for the low-income and socially at-risk of the area, including victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The church has made donations to purchase advanced diagnostic equipment for the clinic in partnership with the Ukrainian government and other donors.
They left more than just medical equipment, as President Uchtdorf presented a small Christus statue to clinic board member Aleksander Serafimovich Sytnyk, to be placed on display at the medical clinic.
The pair also met with full-time missionaries of the Ukraine Kiev Mission. "Build the church in Ukraine," President Uchtdorf told the missionaries. "In 20 years, if (you) stay on the path, (you) will realize great blessings."
In Samara, the two church leaders visited local marketplaces, walked through gardens at a dacha and met with local members.
Also while in Moscow, President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen visited a historic Baptist church where Ezra Taft Benson — then the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and later the LDS Church president — spoke a half-century earlier in what was then the Soviet Union.