LDS Church to reassign missionaries serving in, formerly assigned to Ukraine

Published: Friday, May 9 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

A pro-Russian gunman stands behind the barricades and shows his hunting rifle in front of the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, in the center of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Darko Vojinovic, Associated Press

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Friday that 67 missionaries formerly serving in the Ukraine Donetsk Mission who had previously been transferred to other areas in the country will be reassigned to missions in their home countries, while 41 missionaries slated for service in Ukraine have been reassigned to other missions.

Friday's announcement is the latest in a number of moves made by the LDS Church due to ongoing unrest in Ukraine. The first mission changes made in the country occurred on March 1, when the church moved 23 missionaries from the Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk Mission, according to mormonnewsroom.org.

This latest mission announcement comes days before a planned Sunday referendum on autonomy in Donetsk, an eastern Ukraine city that has been caught up in ongoing protests by pro-Russian separatists since March 1, when demonstrators took over the regional prosecutor's office.

Despite calls from Russia's President Vladimir Putin Wednesday to put off the referendum in Donetsk, insurgents pushed forward, saying they are "just a bullhorn for the people," voicing "what the people want," The Associated Press reported Thursday.

In February, Ukraine's then-President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia after months of protest over his pro-Russian sentiments and abandonment of an agreement that would strengthen ties with the European Union. Since then, clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukraine supporters have been ongoing.

On March 16, residents of the Crimea region conducted a referendum, with a reported 95.5 percent voting to join with Russia, according to the BBC.

The referendum in Donetsk differs from the referendum in Crimea, The Associated Press reported, because the Crimean vote was held as Russian soldiers controlled the region, and the population of Donetsk is more mixed than the majority Russian-speaking population in Crimea.

According to the LDS Church, Ukraine has four missions — the Ukraine Dnepropetrovsk Mission, Donetsk Mission, Kiev Mission and L'viv Mission — and is home to 11,439 members.

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