For Christian radio station New Life Radio, which serves audiences across Russia and Ukraine, Russian bombing attacks have posed a constant threat to ongoing operations. Now NLR faces an additional threat from a new Ukrainian law that diminishes freedom of the press and religion.
Despite difficulties and setbacks, NLR has worked for years to spread the gospel and to provide biblical teaching to its Russian and Ukrainian audience.
Daniel Johnson, president of Christian Radio for Russia, formed NLR in 1993 to address the need for domestic Christian radio services.
“Russia was a land dominated by state-sponsored atheism by the Soviets,” Johnson explained. “For 70 years everything was done by man to destroy the church, even though God retained His remnant. By 1991, it was clear God had determined the end of this godless nation, and He opened a door for us, like in every generation since the time of the apostles, to carry out the order of Acts 1:8.
“So He gave us the vision, and despite how difficult it was to pull it off, the Lord gave us success.”
Now, in the midst of ministry within a war-torn country, Johnson said that in June a Ukrainian bill introduced restrictions on Russian music and language broadcast by Ukrainian radio and television stations.
“After consideration and hearing discussion by national leaders both pro and con for the legislation,” Johnson noted, “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed off on the bill.”
Johnson said there are some significant implications of the new legislation.
“Such laws are reminiscent of Soviet-era content controls over the media, and is a basic mistake of the Ukrainian government in showing their lack of commitment to the most basic democratic ideals for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion,” he said.
Johnson noted Ukraine’s enforcement of “Russian-style restrictions” will make it more difficult for Ukraine to raise material support from the West in its fight against dictatorial Russia.
Johnson said NLR’s facility miraculously escaped damage in the bombing of Odesa.
He noted they “continue to operate a remote station in Lasi, Romania, that shares the broadcast day with the Odesa studio.”
“NLR recently brought on two new seminary-trained radio missionaries to complete our Russian staff, and NLR is beginning the process to start up a new Ukrainian language radio service,” Johnson remarked. “It will take some months to compile enough Bible teaching, Christian music and general programming resources to support a 24/7 operation.”
NLR moved to Ukraine in 2019 from Russia because of government restrictions.
The station recently registered in Hungary and secured a facility in Budapest. A full-time, satellite transmission of NLR’s Russian service began Sept. 12. The location will legally allow them to broadcast into Russia and Ukraine.
Johnson indicated this is his fourth move to escape restrictions that have threatened free speech and his ministry. He said it was unlikely that NLR would be able to “attempt to set up studios in nearby Poland, Moldova or Czech Republic, because of the extreme difficulties of getting Russian-speaking missionary staff … to obtain permission to live and work there long-term.”
Johnson said they need help and partnership with Christians in the West.
“Odesa [has been] under continuous attack by the Russians,” Johnson said, noting that, should the NLR building be hit or taken out of operation, the station will be forced to relocate to some remote spot in western Ukraine.
Seeking U.S. support
Johnson asks Christians in America to consider sponsoring new missionary staff, along with funding for a satellite channel that will make possible the development of a new network of radio affiliates.
NLR established the first Christian FM station in Magadan, Russia, in 1996. A branch was opened in Moscow in 2000 that reached throughout the country, Ukraine and other republics of the former Soviet Union.
“It’s just another chapter in our long story of working to broadcast the gospel, so we don’t worry about anything and trust God to get us through the troubles yet again,” Johnson said in a Christian Network Europe article.