You know the phrase. It’s Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar: “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.” And right now, as we speak, the dogs are loose in Ukraine. Modernly, it’s the tanks of war. And guns, planes, and drones of war. Normally we post on issues and events of direct impact and influence on the doctrine, history, and culture of Mormonism and the LDS Church. But some general events are of such magnitude that they necessarily impact the Church and the membership indirectly but substantially, such as Covid. This Russian war in Ukraine is such an event. Let’s talk about its impact on missionaries, members, heroes, and the world of you and me.

Missionaries. Amid all the fluff and temple news at the Mormon Newsroom is this news release dated January 24, 2022: “The Church of Jesus Christ is Temporarily Moving Missionaries Out of Ukraine.” Good for the Church for being proactive and getting them out early. When the Russians first invaded on Thursday five days ago — I know, it seems like a month ago — one of my first questions was “what about LDS missionaries in Russia?” I carefully searched the Newsroom and for some update on the status of missionaries in Russia (where they are carefully referred to as “volunteers”) but found nothing.

Lo and behold, the only LDS notification of what’s happening to missionaries in Russia was over at the Church News, in a story updated February 25 but presumably posted earlier: “Status of Church’s missionaries in Ukraine, volunteers in Russia.” It quotes an apparently verbal statement to the Church News from an LDS spokesperson as follows:

On Friday, Feb. 25, Penrod said the Church currently has no foreign full-time volunteers in Russia.

“I can confirm that as of mid-February, approximately 50 young volunteers have taken assignments outside of Russia, given the recent recommendation of many foreign governments advising against travel to Russia,” he said.

That’s not a public statement like the one about Ukraine missionaries posted at the Newsroom, it’s sort of a private statement delivered to the Church News but approved for publication. I guess by keeping an extra layer between the Church and the statement, they can always claim they were misquoted or something. Or maybe they think a statement about Russia needs to be low key and unobtrusive. My online searching suggests there are eight LDS missions in Russia, so it’s surprising there were only 50 non-Russian “volunteers” serving there. In any case, they’re out. Perhaps the Church has learned from the difficulties in extracting LDS missionaries from foreign countries at the last minute when initial Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions hit, and now they get missionaries out early. Good. That’s the right approach.

Members. As I was blessing and passing the sacrament at home church on Sunday (we stream sacrament meeting, but do bread and water sacrament live in our home for our congregation of two), it struck me that there were small LDS branches scattered across Ukraine and Russia where small groups of Ukrainian and Russian Latter-day Saints were doing the same thing that day. For us here in American and around the world, the Russian war means maybe gas prices go higher for awhile and maybe a son or daughter in the military gets called up for NATO deployment in Europe. For LDS in Russia, this means coming months and possibly years of economic hardship as harsh sanctions are imposed on Russia. For LDS in Ukraine, this is a life-disrupting event, possible including fleeing to a neighboring country as refugees. God bless them and protect them all.

President Zelensky, Man of the Hour. Sometimes one day, one decision, or one episode can define a person’s entire life. Lincoln at Gettysburg. In this era of partisanship and corruption, where even the best politicians often check their integrity at the door to pursue personal and party interests while governing, up steps Volodymyr Zelensky. When offered evacuation from a threatened Kiev by the Americans, he replied, “I don’t need a ride. I need ammunition.” That’s what we call an “I am Spartacus” moment. He remains inside Kiev, posting daily self-made videos encouraging his fellow Ukrainians to fight and talking to leaders around the world to garner support for his besieged country. He was a comedian and actor before unexpectedly emerging as a candidate and then president of Ukraine. Now he’s a hero, showing truly remarkable courage in standing shoulder to shoulder with his people in Kiev and defending his country from the front lines. The United States could use a few Zelensky’s.

One of his first actions in office was dealing with corrupt pressure from the Loser Donald Trump, who attempted to withhold promised US military aid in order to pressure Zelensky to dig up dirt (or, in the Trump pattern, just make it up) on Biden’s son, for Trump’s political gain. Zelensky showed admirable political acumen in fending off that disgraceful overture, which got Trump impeached but not removed from office. Let’s hope he can fend off Putin as successfully as he fended off Trump. The bitter truth is that, with additional Russian troops and armor now in the process of encircling Kiev, in a week Zelensky might be dead and Kiev might be a pile of rubble. May God protect him and his fellow citizen-soldiers in their difficult hour.

I’m sure I’m not the only one watching the news and saying, “Let’s see, unwelcome Russians are flowing into Ukraine. It appears unwelcome Belorussian troops may soon cross their border and join in the attack. Why can’t welcome NATO troops enter the country by invitation?” If we don’t fight naked aggression in Ukraine, where will we fight? Finland? Taiwan? France again? I know the stakes are high and escalation carries terrible risks, but I would hate for the bully Putin to learn that bullying a neighboring country, rattling the nuclear sabre, and then doubling down with conventional forces to militarily overwhelm that innocent neighbor in the face of worldwide protests is a winning strategy. So don’t let him win! Sanctions are nice and may even be effective. Just don’t let him win in Ukraine. I hate to be so blunt or even crude, but what the world needs right now, as we speak, is burning hulks of Russian tanks and Russian soldiers going home in body bags. And the Ukrainians can’t do that alone.

Here on the Home Front. First, the practical stuff. There are already a half a million Ukranian refugees who have crossed the border into friendly nations like Poland and Romania. I have seen estimates of four million refugees in coming weeks, mostly women and children at this point. Some of these will come to the United States or your country. Consider taking in a Ukranian refugee or lending support if one shows up in your neighborhood.

Next, the Church stuff. “Food storage” isn’t such a joke this week in Ukraine. Maybe it shouldn’t be one here, either. Cash, water, batteries, and a battery-powered radio are a good place to start (if cyberwar erupts, it could affect ATM access, utilities, and Internet). A stash of emergency candles is a great idea, because batteries don’t last long if you’re using them for light at night. If you’ve got a stash of canned goods in your pantry or garage, make sure you have a manual can opener handy. If you don’t, get some cans and a can opener. Duct tape and some extra cardboard are helpful to seal off doors and leaky windows — to keep fallout from entering your house while you shelter in the basement or crawl space. I’m not a doomsday guy, but it pays to think about these things and drop $100 on basic supplies before you need them and the store is sold out. Right now, as we speak, there are thousands of Ukrainians hunkered down in basements in Kiev hoping their dwindling stock of food lasts a few more days. Right now, as we speak, there are thousands of Ukrainian mothers on a train to the Polish border carrying nothing more with them than a suitcase, two kids, and a pocketful of cash. A week ago today !!! these people, all of them, were focused on getting up for work in the morning, getting the kids off to school, buying food for dinner, making that doctor’s appointment for junior, and so forth. Sometimes it comes like a thief in the night.

Conclusion. There ought to be more to say. I watch CNN and keep track of the latest news. I rant at the violence, the unjustified aggression, the civilian casualties, and the flood of refugees, but there seems to be little that you or I can do at this moment except cheer for the good guys and offer a prayer or two. Plan for the worst. Pray for the afflicted. Hug a Ukrainian.

I’ll close with some words of the English poet Sting, from his composition “Russians.”

In Europe and America there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mister Krushchev said, “We will bury you”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the president
There’s no such thing as a winnable war
It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore
Mister Reagan says, “We will protect you”
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
But what might save us, me and you
Is if the Russians love their children too