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01
DEC

Cold-calling Siberia

Sasha Koltun volunteered to fight in Putin's war against Ukraine, though his mother Yelena begged him not to go. Four days later, he was dead, one of several dozen new recruits from across Russia who never even reached the battlefield. What happened to him - and will his mother, battling official indifference and obstruction, ever discover the truth?

With the Kremlin currently restricting access to Russia for Western reporters, Tim Whewell picks up the phone to talk to her and other people in and around the city of Bratsk, in central Siberia, about how the war has affected them. Many are afraid to talk. But others describe their anxiety as they wave goodbye to their menfolk, their confused feelings about the war - a mixture of patriotism and doubt - and the chaotic organisation of the call up. Some recruits have had to buy their own uniform and equipment. Others have suffered as discipline breaks down at some training camps.

Tim talks to a former policewoman determined to encourage support for the war, who makes stretchers for wounded Russian soldiers - and to a young woman who believes it was her boyfriend's duty to be a soldier. But Yelena Koltun - who lost her son Sasha - cannot understand what her country is fighting for.

Presented and produced by Tim Whewell, with additional production by Khristina Stolyarova.
Studio mix by Graham Puddifoot
Series editor Penny Murphy
24
NOV

Trouble in Taiwan?

China’s President Xi Jinping says that Taiwan‘s reunification with the mainland “must and will be fulfilled.” The view from democratic Taiwan is somewhat different.

It’s a threat the islanders have been hearing ever since the 1949 Chinese Civil War, when the Government of the Republic of China was forced to relocate to Taiwan allowing the Chinese Communist Party to establish a new Chinese state: the People’s Republic of China.

But some sense that the increased rhetoric from China in recent months poses a real and present danger. Taiwanese billionaire Robert Tsao has pledged millions of pounds to train three million ‘civilian warriors’ in three years to defend the island should it be required. But will it come to that?

John Murphy is in Taiwan to talk to people there about what they think about the threat from China and whether they’d be prepared to fight to protect what they have.

Presenter: John Murphy
Producer: Ben Carter
Local producer and translator: Joanne Kuo
Production Coordinator: Iona Hammond
Sound Engineer: James Beard
Series Editor: Penny Murphy
10
OCT

Bye-bye Baguette?

The bakers and farmers trying to wean Senegal off imported wheat. Trotting along on a horse and cart, over the bumpy red dirt roads, through the lush green fields of Senegal’s countryside, Oule carries sacks of cargo back to her village. She is the bread lady of Ndor Ndor and she’s selling French baguettes. As a former French colony, the baguette is such a staple of the Senegalese diet, that 8 million loaves are transported out to remote villages, roadside kiosks and high end city bakeries every morning. But wheat doesn’t grow in the West African country, so they are at the mercy of the global markets. Usually they import the majority of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but since the war, there have been immense pressures on availability and prices have been soaring. So much so, the government has stepped in to subsidise wheat to keep the cost of a baguette down. But the war has forced bakers to question whether there could be another way of feeding Senegal’s huge appetite for bread.

Tim Whewell meets the bakers experimenting with local grains, like sorghum, millet and fonio, that can grow in Senegal’s climate. But can they convince their customers to change their tastes and say bye-bye baguette?

Produced by Phoebe Keane
22
SEP

A ‘Me Too’ Moment for Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews?

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is struggling to come to terms with high-profile sex abuse scandals. In the past year, two of its leading lights were accused of taking advantage of their status to sexually assault vulnerable women, men, and children. What has added to the shock is how, after one of the alleged attackers committed suicide, religious leaders in this insular, devout community defended him and even blamed his victims for causing his death by speaking out. The response sparked anger and triggered an unprecedented wave of activism to raise awareness of hidden sex abuse within the ultra-Orthodox world. Some are describing it as a “me-too” moment. The BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, Yolande Knell hears from survivors of sexual assault and the campaigners within the ultra-Orthodox community working towards lasting change.

Presenter: Yolande Knell
Producers: Gabrielle Weiniger and Phoebe Keane
Editor: Penny Murphy

Photo: A child sex abuse survivor prays at the grave of his alleged abuser.
08
SEP

The Texas Tank: A Prison Radio Station Changing Lives

The Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, used to be known as the Terror Dome for its high rates of inmate violence, murder and suicide. Polunsky houses all the men condemned to death in Texas (currently 185) and nearly 3,000 maximum security prisoners. But since the pandemic, a prison radio station almost entirely run by the men themselves has helped to create community--even for those on death row, who spend 23 hours a day locked alone in their cells.

The Tank beams all kinds of programmes across the prison complex: conversations both gruff and tender; music from R&B to metal; the soundtracks of old movies; inspirational messages from all faiths and none. The station’s steady signal has saved some men from suicide and many from loneliness; it lets family members and inmates dedicate songs to each other and make special shows for those on their way to execution. Maria Margaronis tunes in to The Tank and meets some of the men who say it's changed their lives—even when those lives have just weeks left to run.

Produced by David Goren.

Photo credit (Michael Starghill)
01
SEP

Nigeria’s oil thieves

Illegal oil is big business in the Niger Delta. Oil thieves cut the pipelines, siphoning off oil, which they refine in the bush and sell on the black market. This vast underground industry is a huge employer in the region but it’s a dangerous business. Earlier this year, over 100 people were killed in an explosion at an illegal refinery.

The local government has been cracking down on the illegal oil trade. They say the business is responsible for the worryingly high levels of pollution in the Niger Delta, where a thick black smog hangs over the city of Port Harcourt and oil runs through the waterways, destroying mangroves.

BBC West Africa correspondent Mayeni Jones meets an oil thief king pin, an exuberant local politician, taking on this illegal business and treks deep into the forests of the Niger Delta to visit an underground refinery.

Presenter: Mayeni Jones
Producer: Josephine Casserly
Editor: Penny Murphy
Production Coordinator: Gemma Ashman
25
AUG

Lacrosse: Reclaiming the Creator’s game

Why are Native Americans striving to ‘reclaim’ the game of lacrosse?

Lacrosse may have the reputation as a white elitist sport, played in private schools. In fact, it was originally a Native American game, practiced across North America before European colonisers arrived.

As white settlers pushed westwards, taking land and resources, they also took lacrosse as their own. They stopped Native Americans from playing it, alongside prohibiting other spiritual and cultural practices.

But now a Native American grassroots movement is aiming to 'reclaim' what they call "the Creator's game". In doing so they want to promote recognition for their peoples and nations.

Rhodri Davies travels to Minnesota, in the American Midwest, to talk to Native Americans about how lacrosse is integral to their identity.

Producer: John Murphy
Editor: Penny Murphy
Studio Manager: Rod Farquhar
Production Coordinators: Iona Hammond and Gemma Ashman
18
AUG

Moldova - East or West?

Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, the former Soviet Republic of Moldova has recently been awarded EU candidate status.

In an echo of what happened in Ukraine, Moldova lost a chunk of its eastern territory to separatists in a short war 30 years ago. The separatists were backed by elements of the Russian army. Since then Transnistria has remained a post-Soviet “frozen conflict.”

In recent months almost 500,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into Moldova – the highest per capita influx to a neighbouring country. Up to 90,000 have remained in Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries. The republic’s president has warned that President Putin has his sights set on her country. Tessa Dunlop travels to Moldova to hear what Moldovans think about the war in Ukraine and their country’s future.

Produced by John Murphy

(Image: A Russian armoured vehicle at the border crossing with the breakaway enclave of Transnistria in the village of Firladeni, Republic of Moldova. Credit: BBC/John Murphy)
11
AUG

After the ‘Narco-President’: Rebuilding Hope in Honduras

When the president stands accused of drug trafficking, what hope is there? From 2014, for eight years Juan Orlando Hernandez ruled Honduras like his personal fiefdom. A Central American strongman comparable with some of the worst from decades past, under his presidency Honduras began a rapid descent into a so-called “narco-state”. The allegations against his government soon started to mount up: human rights violations, corruption and impunity; accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings by the police and military. And at its heart, the claim by US prosecutors of a multi-million dollar drug smuggling ring, overseen from the presidential palace itself. Just weeks after he left power in January 2022, Juan Orlando Hernandez was arrested and extradited to the US to face drug trafficking charges. American prosecutors allege he used his security forces to protect some drugs shipments and eliminate competitors.

Will Grant, the BBC’s Central America Correspondent, finds out what life was like under the disgraced president and meets some people trying to instil a little hope in a nation which hasn’t had any for a long time. He meets Norma, the mother of Keyla Martinez, who was killed in a police cell. Initially, the police said she had killed herself but hospital reports later proved this wasn’t the case. Now, can Norma Martinez’s campaign for justice bring a sense of hope to those who don’t trust the authorities and have endured years of rampant corruption and police impunity?

Producer: Phoebe Keane
Fixer in Honduras: Renato Lacayo
04
AUG

Ukraine: Collaboration and Resistance

Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive to retake Kherson, the largest city captured by Russia in this year's invasion. But the occupiers are redoubling their efforts to integrate the city and surrounding region into Russia - and they need the help of local collaborators. A few Ukrainians are eagerly serving the invaders. But many key workers - teachers, doctors and other state employees - are forced into a cruel choice. They must agree to work according to Russian rules, betraying their country - or else lose their jobs. Tim Whewell reports on life behind Russian lines in Kherson - and talks to some of those who've thrown in their lot with the occupiers, including the eccentric former journalist and fish inspector who's now deputy head of the region's Russian-backed administration.
28
JUL

The Return of the Tigers

Tigers are making a remarkable comeback in Nepal. The small Himalayan nation is on track to become the first country to double its wild tiger population in the last decade. A new census will be released on International Tiger Day (29th of July). The recovery is the result of tough anti-poaching measures that have involved the military and the local community. Other iconic species including rhinos and elephant populations have also increased. But this has come at a cost, there has been an increase in tiger attacks on humans. Rebecca Henschke travels to Bardia national park, to find out what’s behind the conservation success and what it means for the community living with the Tigers.

Presented by Rebecca Henschke
Produced by Kevin Kim and Rajan Parajuli, with the BBC Nepali team
Studio mix by Neil Churchill
Production coordinators Gemma Ashman and Iona Hammond
Editor Penny Murphy
19
MAY

Love-bombing Estonia’s Russian Speakers

Can music and culture help unite Estonia? Guitar riffs lilt through the air and over the narrow river that marks the border between Estonia and Russia. It’s the first time Estonia’s annual festival Tallinn Music Week has been held in Narva, bringing coach loads of musicians from 30 countries around the world to a normally sleepy city. The organiser moved the festival when the war in Ukraine broke out in order to send a message of unity and to encourage Estonians from the capital to mix with people in Narva, where 97% of Estonians have Russian as their mother tongue. Many can barely speak Estonian at all. Across Estonia, one quarter of the population are Russian speakers, prompting many to describe this as a threat. When Putin invaded Ukraine on the premise of liberating Russian speakers there, it lead to many in the press to ask ‘is Narva next?’ but a new generation of Russian speaking Estonians are increasingly frustrated by this rhetoric and say it simply isn’t true. Russian speakers are even signing up to Estonia’s volunteer defence force, ready to fight to defend Estonia should the worst happen. Their allegiance is clear. But is music and culture enough to unite Estonia’s Russian speakers?

Presenter: Lucy Ash
Producer: Phoebe Keane

Music Credits:

Artist: Trad Attack!
Track: Sõit
Writers: Jalmar Vabarna, Sandra Vabarna, Tõnu Tubli

Artist: Gameboy Tetris and Nublu
Track: Für Oksana
Writers: Pavel Botsarov, Markkus Pulk, Fabry El Androide, Ago Teppand

Artist: Pale Alison
Track: забывай
Writers: Evelina Koop, Nikolay Rudakov

Artist: Jaakko
Sound Installation: On the Border / Rajalla

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