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KYIV, Ukraine -- Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ukraine had reason to celebrate Sunday as Church leaders opened the first temple in the former Soviet Union.
President Thomas S. Monson traveled to Ukraine for the dedication of the Church's 134th operating temple. President Monson and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the Church's First Presidency, led the new temple presidency and their wives to the cornerstone sealing ceremony.
But first, President Monson spoke of what this historic temple means to the Ukrainian saints.
Thirteen years of our membership, this was the first time that our family was able to go to the temple and the feelings there were incredible.
"We look forward to the dedication. It will be a day you will ever remember," he said. "It's a day of freedom."
As is tradition, several children from the crowd participated in putting a little mortar along the edges. Masha Konstytyn was one of the lucky ones chosen for the task.
"It felt so great," she said through a translator. "I was so close to President Monson and he even shook my hand. I think it was the greatest event in my life, the greatest thing that happened to me."
Church members participating in the three dedicatory services could not help but reflect that this day has been a long time in coming. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley first announced a temple for Ukraine in 1998, but government delays in the land purchase and then construction permits held up the groundbreaking until 2007.
We look forward to the dedication. It will be a day you will ever remember. It's a day of freedom.
–President Thomas S. Monson
Until now, Ukrainian Church members had to travel 33 hours to the temple in Freiberg, Germany. That won't be the case from now on.
"It was incredible. The spirit was so strong," said member Parhonenko Konstytyn. "It's just hard to explain and hard to describe the feelings that I had in the temple."
For member Katya Konstytyn, the dedication had personal significance. "Thirteen years of our membership, this was the first time that our family was able to go to the temple and the feelings there were incredible," she said.
Faith is once again important here. More than a thousand years ago, Prince Vladimir, ruler of all the Russians, brought Christianity to this land -- the Orthodox faith from Constantinople. The gold-domed cathedrals are now open after the end of communist rule.
Now, after only two decades with a presence here, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has built a temple. Many Ukrainians came out of curiosity during the three-week open house -- amazed, they said, by its interior beauty and the feelings they experienced there.
More than 1,150 of them want the missionaries to teach them more about the faith.
Those who were inside the temple with President Monson for the dedication are overjoyed.
"I felt great. It was great to be there, and you could feel that you're ascending to heaven there," said member Arina Detkovskaya. "You feel that it's a great temple that will be able to serve the Ukrainian people."
This temple will serve more than 31,000 Latter-day Saints in nine Eastern European nations. It opens its doors Monday.
Members say the temple gives them hope, not only for themselves, but for all the citizens of their countries.