Christian radio station broadcasts in exile
Evacuated and understaffed, New Life Radio remains focused on bringing the gospel to Ukraine and Russia
Six weeks ago, the New Life Radio team occupied a sleek, modern space on the top floor of a Christian university building in Odesa, Ukraine. The walls were decorated with the silhouette of a sunglasses-wearing Jesus fish over a plaque bearing the Reformation motto “Sola fide” and its Russian translation, “Tolko veroy.”
Today, split between two locations and dramatically short-staffed, the radio station is pushing ahead with its mission to bring 24/7 Christian broadcasting to the Russian-speaking world and drawing up plans to expand its evangelism to Ukrainian speakers in the coming months.
Previously based in Moscow, New Life Radio (NLR) relocated to Odesa in 2019 amid tightening Russian restrictions on press and religious freedoms. More recently, faced with an imminent invasion in Ukraine, the team began preparing for another relocation a few months before Russia launched its assault this year, packing a go-bag of essential station equipment and purchasing a 2007 Nissan SUV for transport.
Аir raid alarms sounded across the country in the early hours of Feb. 24. Station manager Ivan Zhurakovski called Daniel Johnson, the president of Christian Radio for Russia — the U.S.-based nonprofit sponsoring NLR — and said, “It’s war.”
Four days later, Zhurakovski, his wife and three children, and his sister, NLR programmer Eva Zhurakovski, joined the procession of cars on the road from Odesa to Chisinau, Moldova. A local pastor had made arrangements to house the team and set up a temporary broadcasting station.
Soon after they arrived, the pastor informed them it wouldn’t be safe to stay in Chisinau due to the presence of Russian troops stationed nearby in the breakaway region of Transnistria. Many in Moldova fear that the former Soviet state, which is not part of NATO and has a standing army of fewer than 10,000 personnel, may fall victim to Russian aggression if Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine proves successful, Foreign Policy reported.
With the help of a different local evangelical church, the NLR team found a haven in Iasi, Romania, roughly 8 miles from the Moldovan border. They are now living and broadcasting out of a three-room apartment owned by an American expat who is out of the country.
The team has begun to settle in and connect with local churches. After her shifts at the radio station, Eva works with a local church’s refugee assistance group, ministering and providing material support to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
With the remote station up and running in Iasi, NLR has reintroduced live programming into the broadcast schedule. A typical session starts with Ivan reading a short devotional, followed by Christian music. The session continues for roughly five hours, alternating between devotionals, Bible readings, and apologetics — led by Ivan or Eva — along with short, prerecorded sermons, music, and a special hour for song requests.
Following the live session, broadcasting switches from the Iasi station to Odesa. Yuri Ignatenko, the station’s engineer and only remaining staffer at the Odesa location, sets up automated programming until the next day. Ignatenko, who is in his early 20s, is living out of the top floor office, sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor in one of the recording studios.
“It’s all him and the Lord at New Life Radio,” Johnson said in an email to WORLD. “[He’s] putting out God’s Word to a nation struggling for answers in the midst of war.”
Though NLR has managed to stay on the air uninterrupted since the invasion, the team remains severely understaffed. At the onset of the invasion, the station’s two theologians-in-residence left to support their local churches during the conflict. Another staff member relocated to Germany for safety.
The NLR team can’t stay in the three-room Iasi apartment forever. If they elect to stay in Iasi long term, they’ll need to find new apartments, which are becoming scarce as the city continues to fill with refugees. Johnson floated the possibility of moving to, or even across, Ukraine’s border with Poland if Russia takes Odesa.
“As of today, we have no clue what’s going to happen,” Johnson told me. “It all depends on the war.”
NLR has historically broadcast almost entirely in Russian, allowing it to reach Russian speakers not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine, Belarus, and communities throughout the world. But as the war continues to sour Ukrainian attitudes toward all things Russian — including, Johnson suggested, the language — he believes the ministry in Ukraine can best continue by opening a second radio channel in Ukrainian.
“Ukraine is going to go through such a long period of recovery and struggle,” he said. “The need for the Word of God is going to be greater than ever.”