Kirkenes, in the far north-east of Norway, once thrived on its close ties with neighbouring Russia. All that changed after the invasion of Ukraine. Now it’s become home to Ukrainian refugees and a safe haven for some Russian journalists escaping President Putin’s media clampdown.
For decades this area popularised the phrase “High North, Low Tension.” Close economic and cultural ties developed with brisk cross-border trade. Hundreds of Russians settled in the town. But now new cross-border restrictions have been imposed and co-operation has ended. The local economy has taken a significant hit and cross-border cultural groups no longer meet. However, despite this being a NATO member, the Norwegian government is keeping the border open. Russian fishing vessels still unload their catch in Kirkenes but are no longer allowed to undergo repairs. The Norwegians have stepped up checks on these Russian boats amid concern of a rise in Russian spying and potential sabotage.
For Assignment, John Murphy travels to Norway’s Arctic to see how war has changed the town and to ask what’s next for this unique community.
Presenter: John Murphy
Producer: Alex Last
Production co-ordinator: Gemma Ashman
Series editor: Penny Murphy
(Image: Kirkenes, in the far north-east of Norway. Credit: BBC)
In March 2023, the first season of the Women’s India Premier League, the world’s second most valuable cricketing league, behind only the men’s IPL, was played. Five teams battled it out to claim the crown, comprised of international teams of women cricketers at the top of their game who earned ten times more than they can elsewhere. While Indian players dominated, there was another factor that marked them out - many Indian women cricketers are single. As Indian women’s cricket has shot to the top of the global stage, how does this rapid change reflect broader changes in Indian society?
Alexandre Farto aka Vhils is a Portuguese artist, known for his striking huge murals that have appeared on city walls from Brazil and the US, to Senegal and Vietnam. He uses a bas-relief carving technique, which involves using chisels and even hammer drills to scrape away at the fabric of the wall, revealing the history in the layers below the surface. Abi McNeil talks to Vhils as he works on his latest project – a 31 metre long mural for the Paris headquarters of Unesco.
What is a war crime? How is it different to a crime against humanity and genocide? And who holds those responsible to account? Find out in this bonus episode of The Explanation, from the BBC World Service.
The BBC's Audrey Brown looks back at the life of South Africa's Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who died earlier in September aged 95. He played a vital - and controversial - role in the country's history during both the Apartheid era and the transition to multiracial democracy.
The earthquake struck in a region of the High Atlas Mountains. Its force destroyed entire villages and could be felt across the country, and even in neighbouring Algeria. Around 3,000 people lost their lives and thousands were injured. It’s described as the worst earthquake in the country in 60 years. Tour guide Mohamed and Majda, an architect, tell host James Reynolds what it was like when the earthquake struck their hometown of Marrakesh. We speak to Paul Philipp, a rescue volunteer in Germany and Ayça Aydın, a Turkish rescue worker, from the organisation Global Empowerment Mission. She visited some of the worst affected areas to care for survivors.
Dr Jennifer Bryson interrogated suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists at the infamous Guantanamo Bay. She worked at the detention centre in Cuba for two years and says that some of the inmates bragged openly about helping to organise the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that killed 3,000 people. Bryson was the first woman to take up the role of lead interrogator at Guantanamo, and the first who was not a member of the military. She would carry out interrogations herself but was also responsible for signing off methods and techniques used by other interrogators. After some time, she started to feel uneasy about some of the 'enhanced interrogation' methods she was asked to approve - in her gut, she felt something was not right. She says it was her faith-formed conscience that led her to deny her colleagues’ requests to use such interrogation techniques.
There are one hundred thousand missing Syrians, according to the UN, who’ve been detained or have disappeared since the beginning of the uprising in Syria twelve years ago and the civil war that followed. Most of their families have no idea where they are and whether they’re alive or dead. Many are paying thousands of dollars for information about them which almost always comes to nothing. For Assignment, Lina Sinjab reports from Turkey and Beirut where she’s been talking to Syrian refugees about the desperate measures they'll go to in their search for their missing relatives.
Presenter: Lina Sinjab
Producer : Caroline Bayley
Editor: Penny Murphy
Sound Engineer: Rod Farquhar
(Image: Framed photographs of some of the people who are missing in Syria. Credit: Guevara Namer/The Syria Campaign)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi describes India’s new parliament as a reflection of the “aspirations and dreams” of all Indians. But the huge triangular structure that sits next to its colonial-era predecessor is controversial: some opposition parties boycotted its inauguration. From Delhi, Shalu Yadav reports on a story that is about cost, architecture and urban design, but also power, democracy and India’s future.
Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh is one of Ireland's leading screen costume designers - working on such productions as The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Jimmy's Hall and the recent, multi award-winning The Banshees of Inisherin. For many years she has also been compiling a collection of iconic items seen on the Irish screen. Eimer has been involved in the photographing of each item to museum standard, allowing the entire collection to be available online for anybody across the world to access, free. We follow Eimer as she oversees the meticulous photographing of her applauded and distinctive knitwear for the Banshees of Inisherin.
Science journalist Sue Nelson shares her personal journey to better understand a condition that affects millions worldwide. Inside her autistic inner world is a cacophony of brain chatter, anxiety and sensory issues - recreated within a 360 degree soundscape - that impact her life and interactions with others. Sue, who discovered she had autism last year aged 60, meets other autistic people, researchers and clinicians to try to make sense of her late diagnosis. Those who offer their own stories and experiences include Canadian actor Mickey Rowe, the first autistic actor to play the autistic lead character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime; award-winning science writer Dr Camilla Pang; and former teacher Pete Wharmby, who left the profession to write about his condition to help others.
Africa causes little damage to the climate but tends to feel the brunt of changing weather patterns. That was the debate in recent days as Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, hosted Africa’s first-ever climate summit. More than a dozen African leaders discussed the continent's increasing exposure to climate change and what that means for the environment, food supply and the economy. They also wanted to get their case together ahead of the next big climate conference, COP 28, which will be held in Dubai at the end of the year. We went around the continent to bring together some of those who are affected by climate change. We hear from farmers, environmental journalists and climate activists, with guests from Liberia, Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.
Hear the marvellous sounds of Europe's last primeval forest, Białoweiza, in an immersive experience rich with all kinds of bird song and animal sounds, including that of the rare European bison. They're recorded by Polish field recordist Izabela Dłużyk.
Izabela is unusual as a young woman recordist, in a profession dominated by men - all the more so because has been blind from birth. She developed a special sensitivity to birdsong ever since her family gave her a tape recorder at the age of 12, and she at once turned its microphone towards the sky. She identifies species entirely though her ears, with an extraordinarily detailed depth of field.
Hearing the forest through Izabela’s acute ears, we venture into her world as well as that of the wilderness she loves. Recorded on location in Białoweiza, we also hear night and dawn recordings that bring all sorts of surprises to the microphone.
Produced by Monica Whitlock. Mixed by Neil Churchill
n the early hours of 14th June, a heavily overcrowded, rusty fishing trawler carrying as many as 750 migrants capsized off the coast of Greece. The passengers - men, women and children from countries including Pakistan, Egypt and Syria - were fleeing conflict and poverty, hoping to start safer and more prosperous lives in Europe.
After its engine broke down, the boat drifted for several hours while desperate passengers made distress calls and waited for rescue. Only 104 people survived the sinking. More than 600 may have drowned, making this one of the deadliest disasters in Europe’s ongoing migration crisis.
For Assignment, Nick Beake travels to Greece to meet survivors of the sinking, who are now living in a refugee camp outside Athens. He hears how they endured a four-day voyage, during which several passengers died due to a lack of food, water and ventilation on board. Brutal smugglers forced them to board the dangerous boat, and confiscated water bottles and life jackets to make room for extra passengers.
Many of the survivors have accused the Greek coastguard of causing the sinking by attempting to tow the heavily overloaded vessel. Greek authorities have denied these claims. Nick meets a Greek activist who volunteers for an emergency hotline that received distress calls from passengers on the ship. She explains that the June 14th disaster is not the first time the Greek coastguard has come under scrutiny, and it has previously been accused of using aggressive and illegal tactics to deter migration.
Presented by Nick Beake
Producer: Viv Jones
Studio mix: Graham Puddifoot
Series Editor: Penny Murphy
Slovakia may be a small country, but its upcoming elections could have a big impact across Europe and beyond. One of the strongest supporters of Ukraine in its war against Russia, Slovakia was the first Nato country to deliver fighter jets to its eastern neighbour. But could that soon change? September’s snap elections follow the collapse of Slovakia’s staunchly pro-Western government. Leading the polls is the populist party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico. The fiercely Moscow-friendly candidate has promised to end military aid to Ukraine, if he returns to power. John Kampfner travels across Slovakia to find out why the country looks set for a dramatic political about-turn.
Robyn Weintraub is a leading crossword designer who writes clues and fills in cells for the New York Times, famous for its challenging daily puzzles. She also creates for the New Yorker, People Magazine and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Robyn is known for her distinct style, and keen readers recognise a “Robyn Puzzle” from the quotes and sayings she uses as hints.
Tara Gadomski follows Robyn over three intense days as she constructs a new crossword puzzle from blank page to completed grid. We get a glimpse of her long word lists and her daily puzzle-writing routine, and experience Robyn’s final verification - by pencil and paper - to make sure the puzzle is satisfying for the millions of people who will try to solve it then we discover whether Robyn’s puzzle has been accepted for publication by the New York Times
The US elections for the next president are not until November 2024, but the campaigning for votes is underway. And it’s two familiar faces who seem to be the ones to beat.
Host Lukwesa Barak hears from Democrats and Republicans across the country about what they make of their choices, and also from those who feel that neither party represents them.
Aaliyah grew up a devout Muslim but now makes adult content for the online service OnlyFans. She’s often pictured wearing a hijab. Aaliyah is her stage name. She’s had death threats but believes that expressing her sexuality and making her own choices about her body are empowering. She has also had support from young Muslim women and couples. She was brought up in the UK as a Muslim and began to question her faith at the age of 12, when her parents got divorced. She says, “My work now is definitely a rebellion against my upbringing. I’m tired of being told how women should be”. Aaliyah still describes herself as Muslim, and feels that her sex work is more important than the version of Islam she grew up with.
Can you be a sex worker and still follow your faith? Sex work has always challenged religion. Although it’s broadly considered immoral within Christianity, Islam and Judaism, sacred texts carry some mixed messages. Women sex workers often see male religious leaders condemning them in public, whilst buying their services in private.
In Bangalore in India, women at a sex workers cooperative think religion is compatible with their work. One Christian, who’s a mother and wife, says her family don’t know how she makes her living. “I can talk to God about it when I can’t talk to my husband”. In Nigeria, a Muslim sex worker we’re calling Zara operates in an area where sex work is illegal and dangerous. But she draws strength from her faith. “I know what God says about selling sex, that it’s against the religion but he understands that I have to do it.”
Gnawa music is a Moroccan spiritual musical tradition developed by descendants of enslaved people from Sub-Saharan Africa. It combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dance, and is traditionally only performed by men. But one female Moroccan artist, Asmâa Hamzaoui, has broken the mould. She's become an international star, who has even performed for Madonna on her birthday. For Assignment, reporter Myriam Francois travels to Casablanca to meet Asmaa and her family, and follows her to the Essaouira Festival, the annual celebration of Gnawa culture.
What does its ever-growing popularity tell us about the changing identity of a country that once saw itself primarily as part of the Arab world, but has now become more interested in its links to the rest of the African continent?
Presented by Myriam Francois
Produced by Tim Whewell
Series editor Penny Murphy
(Image: Asmâa Hamzaoui. Credit: BBC/Myriam Francois)
On 1st February 2021, a coup d'état began in Myanmar where the National League for Democracy was deposed by Myanmar's military. Students studying at the country’s higher education institutes were left with a decision: continue their studies under the new regime, or walk out.
More than two years on, five students at Parami University share their experiences of studying during the coup. Offering a US style liberal arts education, Parami University is one of many institutions offering people another chance to begin, or in some cases restart, their learning.
From dealing with electricity blackouts to writing essays about philosophy for teachers who are only ever a tile on a screen - and usually on the other side of the world - each student shares how they are using education as both resistance and hope for themselves and their country. We also hear from Parami University staff and academics who explain how education continues during conflict.
Names and voices have been changed on some contributors.
With thanks to Dr Shona Loong, Dr Will Buckingham, Dr Kyaw Moe Tun and students at Parami University
Producer: Mollie Davidson
A 7digital Production for BBC World Service