SALT LAKE CITY, UT (KSTU/CNN) - Two volunteers with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were detained in Russia have been released and have returned to the U.S.
20-year-old elder Kole Brodowski and 19-year-old elder David Gaag are home after nearly three weeks of being incarcerated in Russia.
The two young men were taken into custody for allegedly teaching English without a license, a claim the boys and the church deny.
“We call them volunteers because they can’t actually be proselytizing in Russia,” said Thomas Burr, a Salt Lake Tribune reporter:
On Facebook, Kole Brodowski’s father, Kyle Brodowski, said,"It’s finally over."
He called the church authorities in Russia who visited his son daily “super human heroes,” saying “to be a half world away and helpless with many dark and empty nights, President and Sister Otterson were our ministering angels.”
“We’re not really sure how much the U.S. embassy or the State Department were involved in their release. We do know the two were in constant contact with church authorities in the area,” Burr said.
In a statement, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT, said in part, “I’m pleased to learn of the safe release and these two young men. I admire their willingness to serve their fellow man and wish them the very best.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-UT, also weighed in, saying, “Prayers have been answered with the return of these two elders serving in Russia. I am grateful for their release and may God continue to bless them and their families.”
When announcing their release, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in part, “While in detention, the volunteers were treated very well and maintained regular contact with their families and mission president.”
“We’re not really sure how this is going to affect other missionaries or other volunteers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are still in Russia,” Burr said.
According to the church, Kole Brodowski, who was nearing the end of his service, will be returning home to California.
Gaag will return home to Washington state for a short time and then continue his service in a mission.
The church says it is closely monitoring conditions in Russia for all volunteers and will “continue to fully comply with Russian law.”