In 1999 I was serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the England London Mission. That fall I was assigned to the Maldon area, and my district included two missionaries who lived in the nearby town of Braintree: Elder Tustov and Elder Krymov. Both of them were from Kyiv, Ukraine.
It was my great pleasure to serve with these two young men. For a brief time, about two weeks, I lived with them in Braintree and we worked as a threesome.
Despite coming from the same city and having similar heritage, Elder Tustov and Elder Krymov had very different temperaments and actually had a hard time getting along. As their district leader I tried to help them live and work together in unity and harmony, but I don’t know that my efforts made much of a difference. I liked both of them, but Elder Tustov was a fellow guitarist and music lover, so we became better friends.
One day the three of us were in the Braintree flat having lunch, and I asked them what it was like to live under communism. I remember walking home from school in 1991 on the day I learned that the USSR had dissolved, realizing that the world was a freer place than it had been for all of my life up to that point. I guess I was expecting them to say something like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would — some denunciation of tyranny and a primal cry for liberty. That’s not exactly what they said. We were all about 12 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine declared independence, so they had a schoolboy’s perspective on the events.
“After Ukraine became independent we had to speak Ukrainian at school,” Elder Tustov said. “That was the law, and the teacher would correct us if we said anything in Russian.”
“But as soon as we left the school building we would all speak Russian with our friends,” Elder Krymov added.
At the time I wasn’t sure what to make of such a narrow view, but I think it makes sense to me now. They were both ethnic Russians, and so maybe they had sympathy for the Russian perspective about the end of the cold war. The narrative they had learned about this history was probably a lot different from the Reaganesque world view I had been steeped in.
One day when we were going out to work I said to them, “You know, when we were kids my country’s nuclear weapons were pointed at you, and your country’s nuclear weapons were pointed at me. And now the three of us can be friends and can work together to preach the gospel of peace. I think that’s amazing.”
I have had no contact with either of my Ukrainian brothers since I left England, despite looking for them occasionally on social media. Apparently there a lot of people in the world named “Mikhail Tustov,” and I can’t even remember Elder Krymov’s first name.
When the Kyiv Ukraine Temple was dedicated in 2010 I watched a documentary about the cultural celebration event performed by the youth from the temple district, which included Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, and other countries nearby. I thought of my two friends and hoped that they would be involved. My heart went out to the saints in eastern Europe whose lives would be so blessed by having a temple in Kyiv.
Both of my Ukrainian missionary companions would be in their early 40’s now, and so could very well be involved in the current conflict. I don’t know whether they would be Russian separatists or Ukrainian freedom fighters, but I do know that in either case they would be in danger. Everyone in Ukraine is. I imagine that God looks down and weeps over the world right now.
I pray for Elder Tustov and Elder Krymov, my brothers in the gospel and my fellow laborers with Christ. I pray for the safety of the temple in Kyiv. I pray for the people of Ukraine, that God will soften the hearts of the leaders and soldiers of Russia.
I pray that God’s kingdom will be strengthened on earth, that we will build a people prepared to meet the Lord at his coming, so that the Prince of Peace may soon reign as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16) and that all war and conflict may cease.
UPDATE 2/26/2022: I found Mikhail Tustov! He is still living in Kyiv, currently 90 meters underground in the subway to keep safe. He wrote: “Ukraine will win.” Anyone who wishes may send financial assistance to him through patreon: https://www.patreon.com/tustov.
I also have secondhand info that Zhenya Krymov is also in Kyiv and actively posting on social media. I have not been able to contact him personally yet. If anyone has his contact info, please send me a message.
Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.