Ukrainian Christian Broadcasters Respond to Russian Language Ban

The Response of Ukrainian Christian Broadcasters to the Ruling to Ban the Russian Language

As legal and social efforts to stop propaganda have an effect on worship and evangelism, Slavic broadcasters take different approaches.

A new language law in Ukraine has made ministry hard for people who speak Russian. One Christian broadcaster is moving to Budapest, Hungary, because of restrictions that are similar to those during the Soviet era.

Dan Johnson, president of Christian Radio for Russia, which runs New Life Radio (NLR) from Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, said, “I don’t want our staff to be caught on the air reading the Bible in Russian.” “We thought bombs would mess up our radio work, but it was this law that did it.”

Last month, Russian missiles landed a mile from their studio.

But at the beginning of July, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law that almost completely stopped Russian music from being played on radio and TV. It was passed by parliament with a two-thirds majority vote. It doesn’t apply to classical composers who lived before independence, like Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, or to modern composers who have spoken out against the war.

About 65% of the time that NLR airs is music. During the war, many people were moved by local Christian anthems, but Johnson said that most worship songs today are in Russian, even those from Ukraine.

A national survey in 2021 found that 22 percent of the Ukrainian people were born in Russia and 36 percent spoke Russian mostly at home. People worry that Moscow is getting ready to take over some of the occupied areas, which are mostly in the eastern Donbas and the south, where Russian troops have been focusing their attacks.

Johnson has run away from rules before. In 1991, he moved to Russia, and by 1996, he was doing radio ministry in Magadan, a city that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about in The Gulag Archipelago. He was kicked out in 2006, but he kept doing radio work from Moscow using satellites to broadcast all over the former Soviet Union. But as the campaign against free press and evangelical ministry got worse, he moved again in 2019.

Odessa said it would be a place where people could feel free.

Johnson said,

“There is no government in the world that can stop the gospel.” “We will always change and move on.”

NLR rents its studios and broadcasts by satellite and on the Internet, which makes things easier for the company. Johnson said that Budapest was chosen because it has a large number of Russian Christians who welcomed the ministry.

In the meantime, NLR keeps making Russian-language content and encrypts the signal so that it can be sent from outside the country. He said that this should meet the law and also raise money to build a network in Odessa that only speaks Ukrainian. As a future Ukrainian broadcaster, he wants to get an FM license in addition to satellite and online radio.

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“I hope the police won’t bother us,” he said.

Sergey Rakhuba at Mission Eurasia called NLR collateral damage.

He said, “I believe in free speech, but this is a state of war.”

Rakhuba is a native Russian speaker, and the fact that the new law also bans books from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine’s occupied territories has brought more attention to one part of his ministry. It also limits how much Russian-language literature can be brought in from other countries.

Officials noticed that a shipment from Poland to Donbas included Bibles and translations of the devotional book Keys for Kids for children. When it was clear that it was Christian material, they let it through with the signature of the local pastor.

Rakhuba said that Mission Eurasia can still print Russian material, but there isn’t much demand for it. He said that churches are starting to preach in Ukrainian on their own, and that the Pentecostal union has stopped using Russian in all of its services.

Rakhuba said, “The government is doing everything it can to stop Russian propaganda, but the people also want to show how loyal they are.”

Victor Akhterov, FEBC’s senior coordinator for Eurasia, said, “Many are eager, but they have trouble speaking the language” (Far East Broadcasting Company). Before the invasion, the global Christian radio network, which broadcasts from 149 stations in 50 countries, ran seven FM stations in Ukraine. All of them were in areas where most people spoke Russian. In April and earlier this month, Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv were added to the list.

Because of the war, two have had to close.

A lot of the time, guests will say hello in Ukrainian and then ask if they can continue in Russian. But the main language used in broadcasts has changed over time, reflecting changes in national policy.

Akhterov said, “We expected the government’s response [to the 2014 separatist movement in Donbas] and tried to make changes as we watched the trends.”

FEBC was started in 1945 with a focus on China. In 1949, it started sending signals to Ukraine, and in 1993, it started sending signals to local networks. Twenty years later, it opened its first station in Sloviansk, a city in the Donbas that rebel forces backed by Russia took over in 2014.

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At that time, the local FEBC broadcast was mostly in Russian, but it was planned for the amount of Ukrainian content to grow over time. Before Russia invaded, about 75 percent of the population was Ukrainian. Akhterov said that callers can speak any language they want.

The same is true for citizens, even though the public square has changed.

In 2012, Ukraine gave minority languages official regional status so that they could be used in courts, schools, and other government buildings in areas where they were spoken by at least 10 percent of the population.

But in 2015, Russian was banned from all trains and airports, and in 2016 the first limits were put on how many Ukrainian songs could be played on the radio. During this time, FEBC made the “strategic decision” to switch to Ukrainian as its main language.

By 2019, the law from 2012 had been completely replaced. Now, Ukrainian must be used in almost all areas of public life, and media outlets must include Ukrainian versions along with versions in minority languages. Several ethnic groups, English, and other European languages were given special treatment.

Russian didn’t make the cut.

But, said Akhterov, there is no “ugly push” away from the language. When the government merged all the national TV channels in March, news programs were still shown in Russian. He said that people can still speak the language freely, and that thousands of Ukrainian patriots who speak Russian are fighting to stop the invasion.

And a lot of people are switching their first language.

From the Luhansk area of the Donbas, Rakhuba’s nephew once fought against changes in Ukrainian policy to keep the Russian language. The leader of Mission Eurasia was surprised to get a letter from a relative written in “pure Ukrainian” last week.

Rakhuba said, “I don’t blame my family for switching.” “People now think of Russian as the language of the invader.”

Akhterov said that speaking their native language is now “painful” for a lot of people.

Sergey Nakul, FEBC’s senior broadcaster in Kyiv, said, “All my life I spoke and read Russian, wrote articles and books in Russian, and even preached in Russian.” “I can’t today. I started speaking only Ukrainian.”

So, there is no reason to feel bad about changes in the air, especially since Russian-speaking people are still being reached. Affiliated ministry goes on in Russia online and through social media, reaching three million Ukrainians every month.

Akhterov said that FEBC’s policy has always been to stay out of politics. But their interactions with people who are sad show that they are on the side of the Ukrainian people.

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In Russia, things are harder. FM station licenses in Moscow and St. Petersburg were not renewed in 2016, which sped up the move to an internet ministry. And FEBC workers don’t talk about the problems they had during the war in public today. Their goal is to keep an audience of several million people, which gives them more chances to share the gospel.

“Everyone knows that Russia is living in a cloud of lies,” Akhterov said. “But we aren’t doing anti-propaganda; we are spreading the light of Christ.”

The mixed-language NLR staff is in a “quandary” for Johnson.

“How would you feel if your government treated your language unfairly?” he asked. “People in both countries are watching us to see which side we’re on.”

Even though they act neutral on air, they are all against Putin and the bad things that are happening because of the war. Early on, they were criticized for emphasizing their peacemaking loyalty to the kingdom of God, but this stance helped listeners feel more united, he said. During the daily one-hour call-in show, Ukrainian and Russian speakers would request hymns from their own languages and warmly greet each other as family.

“The other 23 hours of the day, we try to spread this spirit,” Johnson said.

But the two countries still fight over religion.

The independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine has asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to remove the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill from his position. The Ukrainian Baptist Union asked their Russian Baptist friends to be a “prophetic voice” for them as they mourned the loss of 400 churches damaged by the war.

But the Russians are also not doing nothing. Last month, the nation’s security council passed resolutions against the “negative influence” of religious groups from other countries. And on August 15, several members of the New Generation movement of churches were arrested. A year earlier, the sect had been called “undesirable.”

Johnson worries that Ukraine’s wartime policies are moving in a similar direction in terms of language, not faith. Akhterov disagrees. And while NLR works to strengthen the church in its Slavic niche, the larger FEBC sees itself as a missionary group reaching out to people who don’t believe.

But as each keeps doing its work in a time of war and suffering, the Bible is at the center of what they do.

Johnson said,

“We let the Bible speak for itself and leave an impression on the listener.” “Paul can explain how to be a Christian better than any radio commentator.”

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My Passion for The Gospel bought about this great Platform.. I love to share the Good News. That's my PASSION. I don't believe the Gospel should be boring. Nobelie is so exclusive. You won't find what we offer any where else. You ask a friend.