In 1843, just 13 years after the Church’s organization, Church founder Joseph Smith called two men — Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and George J. Adams — as the first two missionaries to Russia. In announcing their appointment, Joseph Smith stated that to Russia are “attached some of the most important things concerning the advancement and building up of the kingdom of God in the last days.”
About 50 years after the death of Joseph Smith, a native of Sweden was sent to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he baptized the Johan M. Lindelof family. Church leaders occasionally visited the family in the early 1900s. One of those visitors, Elder Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, offered two prayers of dedication in Russia, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow in 1903.
While Russians living abroad continued to join the Church — for example, Andre Anastasion joined the Church in England in 1917 and later translated the Book of Mormoninto Russian — the Church was not officially recognized in Russia.
Converts and people investigating the Church met in modest schools, libraries and other facilities they could rent. The Church had few materials in Russian, and lay leaders and teachers were inexperienced.
In 1959, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who at that time was also serving as United States Secretary of Agriculture, visited the Central Baptist Church in Moscow and courageously preached to an attentive and emotional congregation.
Thirty years later Church leaders authorized a United States embassy worker in Russia to begin holding group meetings in his apartment. Four months later, in January of 1990, missionaries arrived in Leningrad. The first convert they baptized also became the first full-time missionary from Russia, serving in the Utah Ogden Mission.
Now, Russia and one of its neighbors, Ukraine, are beginning to flourish. Currently, Russia has eight missions and Ukraine has three. Russia has 19,946 members and 129 branches (small congregations), while Ukraine had 10,557 members and 63 branches. Ukraine also had eight wards (larger congregations than branches) and one stake (usually comprising six or more wards).
Russian youth excitedly joined other Latter-day Saints in the worldwide celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Though the sesquicentennial commemoration in 1997 focused on the pioneers’ 1,300-mile American trek, Russian youth eagerly embraced the pioneer spirit. Russian Latter-day Saints were pioneers as well — many of them being the first Mormons in their family and community.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally recognized in Russia in May of 1991. The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation in Moscow recognized the Church as a centralized religious organization.
A highlight for Russia’s Church members and others occurred in June of 1991 when the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The choir received publicity “beyond its wildest expectations.” It recorded songs later broadcast to a potential audience of 339 million.