An Evacuated Missionary’s Experience During Escalating Tensions in Ukraine

Bentley Bigelow, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was called to a Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova mission. Now, he is carrying out his mission in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. After just two and a half months of living and working in Ukraine, Bentley had just a day or two to pack up his life and continue his mission in a different part of the world. With rising geopolitical tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Bentley was able to experience what Ukraine was truly like in the months leading up to his evacuation. 

Photo of Bentley in front of a church in Ukraine
Photo by Bentley Bigelow: Bentley in front of church in Ukraine


Between the months of November and December of 2021, Bentley had to begin preparing for emergency plans. Although the threats were not imminent, it was considered a necessary precaution. He was notified at the end of December that there were increasing tensions between the two countries, despite politics not being a centralized topic for his mission. “By nature, we are not supposed to talk about politics, but when it came to Ukraine, we were told especially, don’t bring up politics. Don’t bring up, you know, any conflict with Russia,” Bentley stated.


With the tension in Ukraine, precautions were necessary. Bentley was required to keep an emergency fund available at all times throughout his mission, and not shortly after, 72-hour kits were prepped for an evacuation if something were to ever happen. This also meant keeping week’s worth of pantry food stocked up, as well as continuing to collect emergency funds, both in Euros and Ukrainian Hryvnia. Emergency plans also included three potential evacuation routes, such as Kyiv to Frankfurt or Warsaw, in case of any military invasion. As Bentley was preparing, he felt an invasion seemed unlikely. Having been acclimated to the people and culture in Ukraine, he felt it was nothing of true concern. “We were very much expecting it to be a rise and fall where it would blow over and things would calm down and go back to normal,” Bentley expressed.


Ukraine Graffiti: translates to "Glory to Ukraine"
Photo by Bentley Bigelow: Graffiti on the wall states, “слава україні,” meaning “Glory to Ukraine”

By the end of the year, missionaries on the eastern part of Ukraine were beginning to be evacuated to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, because of the tension at the border. Donetsk, a city along the border, was now considered the “war zone.” Despite this, Bentley felt no danger because he was serving in the far west region of Ukraine. The people of western Ukraine did not seem too troubled. However, although they would not show it, the Ukrainians had it on their minds. This was something they were too anxious about, but it never left their thoughts. After all, this threat of Russian rule away from democracy was not unusual for them.


Maidan Revolution Monument Spire
Photo by Bentley Bigelow: Maidan Revolution Monument Spire

In 2013, Ukrainians protested in disagreement with former president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an association agreement that would have likely unified Ukraine more with the European Union. Protestors advocated for integration with the E.U. and refused to accept the corruption any longer. The protests continued into 2014 in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, meaning the “Independence Square,” of Kyiv. The government reacted with force. The “Revolution of Dignity” only lasted less than a week, leading to the authoritarian president being driven out. Around the same time, Russia had begun to invade Crimea as well. 


The recent events were nothing out of the ordinary for Ukraine. Bentley felt that life was still normal, for himself and everyone. Some Ukrainians would have to get called to serve if conflict did arise, but they did not seem scared, merely resigned.


In January 2022, Bentley was in Ivano-Frankivsk. Weeks into the new year, he received a call from his section president, informing him to pack up everything in order to be in Kyiv the following day. Due to an emergency lockdown, this was the only thing Bentley was informed. Bentley recalls, “I was fairly alarmed. I was also really confused.” He understood that the west felt passionately against Russia, even to the point where he could not say any Russian sounding words, but he was in disbelief that he had to be removed from this area. At the time, the United States was recalling all embassy families because of Ukraine’s position regarding Russia’s incursion. Russia had made a stance that Ukraine was preparing for offense, so Russia would defend itself. They began doing military exercises in Belarus. However, Bentley fully believes that it is really Ukraine preparing to defend its country from Russia. This also meant he had to evacuate as well.

I will miss Ukraine with my entire heart. The people, this beautiful language, the beautiful country, and every single lesson it taught me in just two and a half months.

— Bentley

Hours later, there was an “all call” for anyone on his mission in Ukraine to leave for Kyiv promptly. After getting on a bus at 6 am and traveling nine hours to Kyiv, a town much further east than he had been, Bentley noticed that the people there were also resigned. He had understood that the western side was very much “nationalistic” and did not want to hear Russian, but the eastern side was predominantly Russian speaking. Eastern Ukrainians are not entirely against Russia, but they do not support the conflict either. Overall, Bentley felt the similar subdued atmosphere about the situation there as well. The evacuation was like a calm before the storm, a dangerous one between two countries that would impact millions. The mission president held a meeting to discuss plans for the future.  Unfortunately, only eleven individuals in all of the country would stay, as they were citizens. Those that were almost done with their mission were sent home. Bentley, with twenty months left, was reassigned to the Alpine German-speaking mission. “Immediately, that hit really hard. I grew to love Ukraine. I loved where I was, and I loved the people and the language,” Bentley expressed.


Despite his love for Ukraine, he knew this was where he was supposed to go. After only one extra day, Bentley flew to Germany and finally made it to Ludwigsburg, Stuttgart, a city in southwestern Germany. Upon arrival, Bentley got groceries and acclimated to the new area; by the next day, he was already working and talking with people. 

Photo by Bentley Bigelow: Streets of Ukraine


Bentley has continued to practice learning the Ukrainian language in hopes of returning, but he is also practicing German now. Fortunately, Bentley is still in contact with people in Ukraine, even recently joining a zoom call of one of the baptisms he taught. Ideally, if no war occurs, there is a possibility that Bentley returns in three to four months. However, if conflict arises, this will jeopardize more than just Ukraine, but all of eastern Europe as well.

As for Bentley now, he is really enjoying Germany. He said, “I love it. This is where I was supposed to be and I am excited to meet the new people. I am excited to learn this language, and I am excited to serve.”