Ep. 5 – The Morning Breaks: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
In this special episode, learn more about Ukraine and its inspiring history, including the blessings the Lord promised this great country.
- The Morning Breaks: Stories of Conversion and Faith in the Former Soviet Union was written by Howard L. Biddulph, the first mission president in Ukraine
- The Soviet Coup of 1991
- A group of conspirators tried to take over the Soviet government in order to preserve the USSR
- Protests were banned and the press was censored
- Tension in Kyiv
- Kyiv was surrounded by the Red Army (the Soviet army)
- President Biddulph comforted his missionaries by reading D&C 35:24-27
- As long as President Biddulph could see the Ukrainian flag, he knew that the city hadn’t been taken over by the Soviets
- The Coup Falls Apart
- Red Army colonels and majors, including Vasily Lubarets, refused to fire on citizens in Moscow, and the protesters prevailed
- A man named Sergey Surovikin led tanks into the crowd, killing three protesters—he is now a Russian general in charge of the bombing of Ukrainian cities
- Ukraine declared independence on August 24, 1991
- The Dedicatory Prayer of Ukraine
- Given by President Boyd K. Packer on September 12, 1991
- Episode next week: B – The Holy Ghost Can Strengthen Your *Bonds* with Others
- Episode in two weeks: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
Today’s episode is about Ukraine, a country that is very dear to me and which is currently under attack. But today I’m not going to talk much about the war itself. Instead, I’m going to take you back in time to a different conflict that Ukraine was once caught in the middle of, the year they gained their independence. Keep listening to hear a firsthand account of this powerful piece of history, and discover the blessings the Lord promised Ukraine when it was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel.
Hi everyone. Today is probably going to be a difficult episode to record. My plan was to talk about the book Atomic Habits, but then the war in Ukraine started, and that has been sapping all of my time and mental energy. For those who don’t know, I served my mission in Ukraine, my husband Vlad is from Ukraine, and his family is in Ukraine right now, as well as dozens of dear friends. So for me to plan out a podcast episode about Atomic Habits, and sit down and record it, and pretend like everything is fine … yeah, I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. Because honestly, I can hardly focus on anything right now because my mind is constantly in Ukraine.
Anyway, when I realized I couldn’t do the episode that I planned, I thought I’d just not post anything this week. But then I was looking through my bookshelf and happened to see a book called The Morning Breaks, which a friend gave to me after my mission. The subtitle is “Stories of Conversion and Faith in the Former Soviet Union,” and it was written by the first mission president that served in Ukraine, from 1991 to 1994—Howard Biddulph. And I thought, “You know what? I’m going to do an episode about Ukraine.” So today, like I said, I’m going to take you back in time to 1991 by reading from this book, because President Biddulph was actually in Kyiv when Ukraine declared its independence, and also when the dedicatory prayer was given.
Alright, so the part I want to share takes place in August 1991. (And by the way, President Biddulph and his wife began their mission on June 29, 1991, which was exactly one week after I was born. So I like to say that I was born at about the same time as my mission.)
The Soviet Coup of 1991
Anyway, in August 1991, things were pretty tense politically. The Soviet Union was still intact, but there was a rising sense of separatism among the republics that were a part of it, including Ukraine. The president of the Soviet Union, President Gorbachev, realized that the USSR was kind of hanging by a thread, and he tried to keep it together by proposing what was called the “Union Treaty.” This would have granted a lot of authority and autonomy to the national republics, but at the same time, they would still be ruled federally by a joint Soviet Union council.
So Gorbachev obviously thought this was a good idea, but his friends … not so much. A bunch of higher-ups, like the head of the KGB and even Gorbachev’s vice president, were worried that this treaty granted way too much power to the individual countries (like Ukraine) and that it would lead to “the destruction of the USSR and the ruin of Socialism.” So what did they do? They staged a coup. They put Gorbachev on house arrest, claimed he was feeling “ill” and couldn’t sign the treaty, and then made their own little committee to take over the government. And I thought this was interesting: in the Britannica Encyclopedia, it says this: “[The committee] soon issued Resolution No. 1, which banned strikes and demonstrations and imposed press censorship. There was also an address to the Soviet people claiming that ‘mortal danger hangs over our great fatherland.'”
Okay, so the reason I’m going into such detail about this is because it’s astounding how much history repeats itself. Thirty years ago, Soviet leaders felt like they were losing power and they tried to reclaim that power through force, but (spoiler alert) they lost and countries like Ukraine gained their independence. Now Putin, also driven by an obsession with power, wants to reestablish that Soviet empire, hence the attempt to “get Ukraine back,” so to speak. And once again, we see protests being banned and the press being censored, except now it’s not just newspapers—it’s news channels and Facebook and YouTube and all of that. And also, a lot of the Russian propaganda is built on this idea that Russia is in ‘mortal danger’ because of Western ideologies.
Tension in Kyiv
Alright, so this is where the book comes in. President Biddulph was in Kyiv when this coup took place. And to prevent any opposition, the conspirators sent the Red Army (the Soviet army) not just into Moscow where they were, but also into all the capital cities of the republics. So basically, the Soviet army completely surrounded Kyiv. And the U.S. State Department told all Americans to leave the Soviet Union as soon as possible. Does that sound familiar? All political meetings were banned (including the Ukrainian Parliament), and President Biddulph wrote, “It appeared likely that all the resources of power were in the hands of the conspirators. The crowds on the metro and the trams were quiet, staring morosely at the floor. The feeling of gloom was palpable.”
So, President Biddulph immediately arranged a meeting with his missionaries, and this is what he wrote about it:
I had not taken time to think about what I should say to the missionaries to raise their spirits and could not tell them any instructions from the Area Presidency [because I couldn’t get through to them]. I had been mission president for just over one month, and this was my first crisis. I opened my scriptures as I stood up to speak, hoping to find something appropriate. My scriptures opened exactly to Doctrine and Covenants, section 35, verses 24-27, which I read to them:
“Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish; And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; … Lift up your hearts and be glad, your redemption draweth nigh. Fear not, little flock, the kingdom is yours until I come. Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen.”
I realized by an overflowing manifestation of the Spirit that this scripture was the word of the Lord to us in our situation. I bore witness that this crisis was in the hands of the Lord and that Satan would have no power to end the work of the Lord at that time in that country. “The Lord is able to shake the heavens for our good,” I told them. “Zion shall rejoice and flourish here, and Israel shall be saved in Ukraine. We need not fear.”
He goes on to explain what happened next:
The Ukrainian Parliament refused to disband as the [conspirators] in Moscow demanded. I wondered if the Red Army troops encircling Kiev would attack and occupy the city.
For two nights I listened to the truck convoys crossing Victory Square. I could see the headquarters building of Rukh, the Ukrainian nationalist organization, across the street. Instead of the official Ukrainian Soviet flag, it flew the blue and gold flag of Ukrainian independence. When awakened in the middle of the night by the truck convoys, I would look outside to see if the flag was still fluttering in the light of the square. Seeing the flag, I knew there had not yet been a Soviet occupation of the Ukrainian capitol, and I would go back to sleep.
(Sorry I’m getting so emotional …)
Isn’t that powerful? I think about the power of that flag in Ukraine right now, and how almost the whole world is waving it right now, rooting for Ukraine. And I love that the Ukrainian Parliament didn’t disband like they were told to, because it just shows that, even back then, Ukraine had such a strong will and a spirit of independence.
The Coup Falls Apart
Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably never even heard about this little piece of history before. And there’s a reason for that—because the coup failed. People gathered in Moscow to protest, even blocking the tanks that the conspirators had ordered there. Here’s how President Biddulph described it:
It was apparent that the coup was unraveling. A key reason was that Red Army colonels and majors in Moscow … bravely refused to lead their men to attack citizens. One of these brave senior officers was Vasily Lubarets, a Ukrainian who would later be baptized into the Church in Kiev. He was assigned to the USSR General Staff in Moscow and was required to explain the plan of attack to junior officers under his command. He has written an account of this event:
If I were to fulfill the command given me, I would never be able to forgive myself in the future. On the other hand, if I told the junior officers the truth, I would risk the lives of my wife, my daughters, and myself.
I understood clearly that I had to make a choice and that time would not wait for me, … so I said to the junior officers the following: “A coup has been committed in the country. The [conspirators] have grabbed power, and they are criminals. They will give you weapons and orders to shoot at people, but remember that there are soldiers in places where your children, mothers, and wives are, and those soldiers could get the same orders too.”
“What shall we do?” they asked me. “If we do not fulfill the orders, they will kill us!” I replied, “Yes, they will kill us, but it is better to be a victim than a killer.” These were my last words to the formation. Later there were two sleepless nights near the radio; then there was the victory of the unarmed people upon the tanks. There were lists in the Party Military Department with the names of people who had to be arrested, and my name was there too. They began to arrest worthy officers in other divisions. Finally, after waiting three days and two nights, common sense and the law won in this country.”
I don’t doubt that there are Russian soldiers who are feeling that dilemma, and I pray to God that at least some of them will be as courageous as Vasily Lubarets, who risked his life to do what was right. And oh how I hope “common sense and law” will win again.
And by the way, there was another senior officer there by the name of Sergey Surovikin. He apparently didn’t have any qualms about ordering his men to attack citizens, because he personally led a column of tanks into the crowd, killing three of the protesters. He was arrested afterward and held for several months before it was determined that he was simply “following orders,” and he was released. And now where is this guy, 30 years later? He is a general in the Russian Army, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces. In other words, he is the one in charge of the bombing of Ukrainian cities that is killing and displacing thousands of innocent civilians. How’s that for “following orders”?
Back to 1991. Here’s what President Biddulph wrote next:
On the third day of the attempted coup, it was clear to all the crowds assembled in the center of Kiev on October Revolution Square, soon to be named “Independence Square,” that the coup had miraculously failed. I wanted to be in this rejoicing crowd, but I had forbidden the missionaries to be in political demonstrations, so I felt that I must set an example and keep my distance. But old men ran past me shouting: “Thanks be to God; we are free! Thanks be to God for our freedom!”
All the missionaries assembled again at the mission apartment on the third day, August 21. We’d all come to the testimony meeting fasting with thanksgiving before the Lord, rejoicing that our mission would continue.
We knew that we had witnessed a miracle of the Lord. “For behold, he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than [the ministers of state and the generals and the KGB, who have conspired to deny the freedom of the people]?” (1 Nephi 4:1).
Ukraine declared its independence on August 24, 1991. And it’s that independence that they are fighting for today.
Well, I hope you didn’t mind that history lesson. I think it’s really important to be informed about what’s going on and why. The Ukrainian people have come so far in the last 30 years, and they are not going to let anyone threaten their progress, their land, or their freedom.
Let me go ahead and finish this episode by reading the dedicatory prayer of Ukraine. But because I want to end with that, I’m going to switch things up and share this episode’s takeaway now instead of at the end like usual.
So, my takeaway invitation to you is to stand with Ukraine, and one of the best ways you can do that is by donating. So, please research where you can contribute, and please donate, even if it’s as little as five dollars. You can donate to the Church’s humanitarian fund if you’d like, and I’m also posting a link on the podcast website where you can find a list of charities that are supporting Ukraine right now. That’ll be at ldsbooknook.com/ukraine. And the reason I’m asking this is because money really does make a difference—for refugees, for those still stuck in Ukraine, for those on the front lines, everyone. So please consider donating, and continue to spread awareness of the war.
Dedicatory Prayer of Ukraine
Alright, so here is the dedicatory prayer of Ukraine, offered by President Boyd K. Packer on September 12, 1991. Right after that, I’ll end by reading a couple paragraphs from the book about President Biddulph’s impressions, since he was also in attendance.
Our Holy Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. On this beautiful morning we assemble here under appointment from the prophet president to accomplish a sacred ordinance of the gospel.
One thousand three years ago, Grand Prince Vladimir announced that Christianity would be preached in the dominion over which he presided. He caused the great pagan image to be pulled down and destroyed. The rudiments of the gospel of Jesus Christ then spread from Kiev thence into what is now known as Russia. Christianity in its infancy withstood the invasions of the Mongols and lived in the hearts of the peasants and the hearts of great men and women in this land.
As the years unfolded, and the day of restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was near, there emerged here in this land the great dark doctrine that would oppress this people and would suppress the doctrines of Christianity. So thick and palpable were the clouds of darkness that men and women hardly knew which way to walk.
Now as we meet this morning, a millennium later, “the morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled! The dawning of a brighter day, majestic rises on the world. The clouds of error disappear before the rays of truth divine; the glory bursting from afar wide o’er [this nation] soon shall shine. Angels from heav’n and truth from earth have met, and both have record borne; thus Zion‘s light is bursting forth to bring her ransomed children home.”
That great anthem, written by an apostle, describes the spirit of what transpires here this day as we dedicate this land. And this day, in this city, the great granite and bronze images of oppression are being pulled down.
Our prophet president, Ezra Taft Benson, came to this land a generation ago to attend diplomatic meetings. On that occasion, he visited a Russian church and there had gathered the elderly in whose hearts the rudiments of the gospel of Jesus Christ had been sheltered. He bore testimony to them, and they wept and kissed his hands, and he wept.
Our prophet president now enfeebled with age and awaiting a call beyond the veil has been valiant in his declaration that freedom should return to this land. He raised the voice of warning spoken of in the revelations against those philosophies that would suppress the right to worship Thee, our Holy Father. Now as he awaits that call beyond the veil, bless him that he might know and rejoice in what transpires here this day.
As we dedicate this land onto Thee, our Holy Father, we invoke Thy blessings upon this Republic of the Ukraine, upon the city of Kiev, and upon this land by any other name by which it might be known in the generations yet before us. We invoke the blessings of the Lord upon the people of this land, those who struggle and seek to find the light and truth. We are told in the revelations that there are many yet among all nations who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.
We are gathered here as missionaries and as members, a small group. This gathering is prescient of the tens and the hundreds and the thousands and the hundreds of thousands that will yet join Thy church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in this land. We see the day when there will be scattered in the villages here and there a member and yet another member and then a gathering and then a branch and, in due time, stakes of Zion set firmly and permanently upon the fertile soil of the Ukraine. And in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land.
We invoke Thy blessings upon those who preside over this land and those who will preside from time to time to manage the material and political and governmental affairs of this people. May they have inspiration and be guided of Thee and know what to do and how to do what they ought to do to govern this land in such a way that those who desire to join Thy church will have the freedom so to do.
We humbly pray, our Holy Father, that the people will be blessed with food and clothing and shelter. Bless them that the specter of famine will never touch this land, that in the patterns of life, as they will unfold, there will be opportunity for children to be blessed and to be schooled and to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. Bless the young men and young women to find one another, to pledge their love to one another, and to bring children into this world under the bonds of the sacred covenant and to raise them in righteousness.
As we dedicate this land, our Holy Father, we remember those who have lived in generations past and now are gone. We pray that this moment might be the beginning of an emancipation of their spirits in the world beyond, through the sacred sealing ordinances of the work for the dead that Thou hast revealed. We pray that there will be an outpouring of the spirit of Elijah, that the names will come forth, the records made available, and the ordinances performed for them in temples in other lands, and in due time in temples in this land.
And now on this beautiful morning, in the name of Jesus Christ, and through the authority of the holy priesthood in us vested, in the authority of the holy apostleship, we dedicate this city of Kiev and this Republic of Ukraine to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We plead unto Thee, our Holy Father, that Thy inspiration and power will now be upon this land as it is dedicated. We ask that there be a power set to hold in abeyance those philosophies and that inspiration which come from the adversary. Cause that they no longer shall have part here with this people, that there will be the unfolding of a great and a brighter day, that angels from heaven and truth from earth shall meet and record bear, that the power of Zion is now here to redeem His covenant children.
As we pray unto Thee, our Holy Father, in the spirit of prayer, we have a feeling of reverence and of great gratitude. Gratitude for these few now who have been called out of this land and have accepted baptism, and we invoke a special blessing upon them and upon the families from which they come, that this gospel will shine forth and spread forth over this great land blessed of Thee.
These things we pronounce and this dedication we declare by virtue of the holy priesthood, by virtue of the holy apostleship, and in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
And finally, this is what President Biddulph wrote:
It was a gray, cloudy morning with intermittent showers. As Elder Packer’s prophetic dedicatory prayer came to an end, however, members of the assembled group opened their eyes to see a brief parting of the heavy black clouds. Rays of the early-morning sun were shining magnificently on the river and on the city below, as if to proclaim: “The morning breaks on Ukraine; the shadows flee. Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled in this ancient land!” Then, after a moment, the sun was gone and heavy clouds and showers remained throughout the day.
It was also deeply symbolic that the Apostles witnessed workmen on “Independence Square” start to remove the giant statues of Lenin on that same day, September 12. Elder Packer commented that Prince Vladimir had removed the ancient idol of Perun from Kiev at the time that Christianity was received, and the removal of the modern idol of Lenin signified that the people were ready to receive the fullness of the gospel.
Ukraine is a very special place, and Ukrainians are a very special people, and I hope you’ve been able to see that during this episode. And I hope so desperately that “the morning” will come soon, that the shadows of war will flee, and that the dawning of a brighter day will soon rise on the world.
Thanks for listening to Latter-day Saint Book Nook, hosted by Liz Kazandzhy! If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. You can also visit ldsbooknook.com to stay up to date with me and the podcast. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next time!