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Church volunteers in Russia will be deported, church spokesman confirms

Two church volunteers serving in Russia will be deported, a spokesperson with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed on Thursday.

The Russian police arrested two church volunteers Novorossiysk, Russia on Friday.

A church spokesperson said in a statement that the two volunteers will “remain in custody while their deportation is being processed.”

“The young men are in good spirits, are being treated well, and are in regular contact with their mission president and their families,” said church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

“We continue to work with local authorities in Russia and we remain hopeful these volunteers will be allowed to leave the country soon. In the meantime, we are grateful for the many offers of assistance and support expressed on their behalf.”

The date of deportation for the two church volunteers has yet to be determined, but the Church says it is hopeful that they will be “allowed to leave the country soon.”

The state-ran news outlet, Tass, from Russia reported Novorossiysk’s Primorsky District Court said two U.S. foreigners were guilty of violating the country’s entry and exit rules.

Tass also reported that a Russian Orthodox Church claims that Latter-Day Saints are carrying out religious activities working as English teachers.

Yuri Kozhokin, a representative in Russia of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says the two volunteers were not teachers.

“They just talked with Russian citizens who came to see them on their own accord,” Kozhokin said. “They just talked about various topics unrelated to religion, got to know one another, but they talked to each other in English.”

The church announced in 2016 that missionaries in Russia are now called volunteers as part of an initiative in the country to combat terrorism.

The U.S. State Department also says it is aware of the detainment of the volunteers as well.

“We have no higher priority than the protection of U.S. citizens abroad. Due to privacy considerations, we do not have any additional information at this time,” according to a State Department statement.