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The Night Witches of World War Two

Orna Merchant learns how, during World War Two, a desperate Soviet Union created three all-female aerial combat units. The most celebrated of these was the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. Using Polikarpov Po-2 wooden biplanes, as the aviators approached their target they would cut their engines and glide in to drop their bombs. The eerie sight and sound of this – added to the discovery of them having all women crews - led German forces to nickname them ‘Nachthexen’ - the Night Witches.

A short history of sadness

How do humans cope with sadness? Is it something to be avoided at all costs or part of the human condition? Should we dwell on our sadness, or flee from it? Author Helen Russell explores humanity's history of gloom, and the cultural differences in our approach to tackling it. Helen goes to Lisbon to explore their relationship with melancholy, communicated through a uniquely mournful genre of music called Fado, and an untranslatable word "saudade". She learns about the service which sends a handsome man to wipe away tears in Japan, and hears about joy, sadness and mourning with a Ghanian poet.

Babies and families

Several countries are experiencing a fall in the number of babies being born and this has potentially serious consequences. Japan’s Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, has warned that his country is on the brink of not being able to function as a society. The problem is an increasingly elderly population and not enough younger people to keep the country ticking over. China is seeing record low birth rates and South Korea has the lowest rate of women having babies in the world. Youtubers Sarah and Kyuho in the South Korean capital Seoul, describe some of the pressures and reactions they experienced when they said they are not planning to have kids.

Cuba–United States relations

Cuba and the United States share a long, complex history. From the Spanish-American War of 1898 to Fidel Castro's Cuba, these neighbours have often had an uneasy relationship. Claire Graham speaks with Ana Maria Roura, a BBC World Service journalist and Cuban native, to understand the history between the two nations.

Iran Protests: Tales from the frontline

Why did people take to the streets, risking arrest and a barrage of bullets?
After protests turned violent and hundreds of people were killed, four Iranians tell the story of why they risked their lives. What has been happening in Iran to drive them out onto the streets to face bullets?
‘Agrin’ tells Phoebe Keane she’s tired of being objectified as a woman, and having no faith that the authorities will take sexual assault seriously when the police themselves are accused of raping prisoners.
Mahsoud tells how he was shot during a protest but feared going to the hospital in case the authorities put him in jail. When plain clothed police loitered outside his family home, he decided to leave Iran. Still bleeding and with a metal pellet lodged in his ear impairing his hearing, he finally made it across the border to Iraq.
‘Nazy’ tells of being arrested by the morality police while walking to work and being shoved in a van as the heels on her shoes were too high. She started to protest every day and now walks through the streets with her hair blowing in the wind, an act of defiance.
‘Farah’ remembers a time in Iran when women could dance and sing in public and protests because she wants her daughter to live a life without fear.

Presenter: Phoebe Keane
Producers: Ed Butler, Ali Hamedani, Khosro Isfahani and Taraneh Stone
Series editor: Penny Murphy

Sierra Leone's children of war

In 2002 photojournalist Caroline Irby and former BBC reporter Tom McKinley arrived in Sierra Leone to cover the fallout from the country’s brutal conflict. They travelled with children caught up in the fighting; as they were reunited with their families. Now, just over two decades on, Caroline returns to West Africa to track them down.

The Black Book

As the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union swept over vast areas of Ukraine and Belorussia from the summer of 1941, over three million Jews were deliberately targeted for annihilation. Shot, hung, butchered, a million and a half Jewish souls were buried in vast pits in Babi Yar, Rumbula, Mariupol, Minsk, Kyiv and Riga. Many accounts began to flood into the Soviet Union where journalist and writer Ilya Ehrenburg began gathering testimonies of the mass murder. This became The Black Book, a chronicle of the Nazi extermination of Soviet Jews. Historian Catherine Merridale travels to Riga, Latvia and Yad Vashem, where the Black Book was smuggled, to uncover this complex story of loss, silence and rediscovery.

Yiddish glory: Jewish refugees in Central Asia

During World War Two, approximately 1.6 million Soviet, Polish and Romanian Jews survived by escaping to Soviet Central Asia and Siberia, avoiding imminent death in ghettos, firing squads and killing centres. Many of them wrote music about these horrors as the Holocaust unfolded. Singer Alice Zawadzski, whose own family found themselves on a similar journey to Central Asia, and historian Anna Shternshis of the University of Toronto, who led the project to bring these songs back to life, travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to retrace the journeys of those Jewish refugees who became music composers.

Afghan women

Since the Taliban returned to power some 18 months ago, women in Afghanistan have been removed from nearly all areas of public life. They are barred from secondary schools, universities and most workplaces and cannot even socialise in public parks. As Afghanistan faces a growing humanitarian crisis, we bring together three students in the country to share their experiences of life under Taliban rule. We catch up with three young women who used to compete in Afghanistan. Footballer, Najma, tells us that in the country many girls wish they had been born boys. We speak to two politicians who had fled the country when the Taliban returned to power.

Roe v Wade and abortion in America

Fifty years ago, Jane Roe become the centre of a ruling that would fuel US politics for the following decades. The Roe v Wade case gave women the constitutional right to abortion, until 2022 when it was overturned by the US Supreme Court. Claire Graham speaks with Katty Kay about the 1973 legal case, the legacy of that ruling and how abortion became such a central issue in contemporary American politics.

A return to Paradise

In 2018 the town of Paradise in hills of northern California was wiped out by one of the worst wildfires in California's history. The disaster made headlines around the world - regarded as a symbol of the dangers posed by climate change. So what does the future hold for communities like Paradise in a region increasingly threatened by wildfire? Four years on, Alex Last traveled to Paradise to meet the survivors who are rebuilding their town.

Photo: A home burns as the Camp fire tears through Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. (Josh Edelson /AFP via Getty Images)

Reporter and producer: Alex Last
Sound mix: Rod Farquar
Series Editor: Penny Murphy
Production coordinator: Iona Hammond

What do you think you are? Part two

There’s growing scientific evidence that many animals are not only conscious but they possess a more profound sense of self. They can learn by experience and make decisions that depend on a sense of the future - in other words they are “sentient” beings with the capacity to feel pain, pleasure and emotions. In the second part of this two-part series, Sue Armstrong reports on the latest scientific research into the minds and consciousness of animals and the ethical implications this has on animal welfare and our relationship with animals.

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