SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. State Department is aware that two young Latter-day Saint volunteers are being detained by local police in Novorossiysk, Russia.
"We are aware of reports of two U.S. citizens detained in Novorossiysk, Russia," according to State Department spokesperson. "We have no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any additional information at this time."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has been in touch with the State Department, "but there are many details about the incident that we do not know yet," his spokesman, Conn Carrol, said.
Sen. Mitt Romney's office has offered its assistance to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Russian Foreign Ministry told CNN two U.S. citizens are being detained in Novorossiysk, a port city on the Black Sea.
"We can confirm information about the detention of a few U.S. citizens," Maria Zakharova said in response to a question about reports of the detention of two church members.
In a tweet Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. wrote, "Terrible, I know many great Mormon families with children who are missionaries or who have done missions. That they would be held for doing this and their numerous other charitable deeds is sickening!"
The father of one of the volunteers told the Deseret News on Tuesday that the two young men are doing well. He said the mission president traveled to Novorossiysk and is meeting daily with the volunteers.
On Monday, the president of the church's Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission, where the young men are serving, was allowed to bring his cellphone into the detention facility and have the volunteers call home.
The father said a Saturday court hearing, in which the volunteers were represented by attorneys provided by the church, did not resolve the issue. An apparent agreement to have them surrender their visas and leave the country did not materialize, which likely means the two men will remain in detention through the week.17 comments on this story
The father said officials believed the volunteers were teaching English without a license. The two men said they only were conducting a regularly scheduled game night in English.
In July 2016, Russia implemented an anti-terrorism law that included a provision banning public missionary work. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints immediately complied, redesignating its young missionaries as volunteers and directing them to follow the law's provision that all proselytizing take place in houses of worship.