BBC 2024-02-20 04:31:31


Alexei Navalny’s body to be held for two weeks for ‘chemical analysis’, family told

The family of Alexei Navalny, the Putin critic who died in a Russian prison, have reportedly been told his body will not be released for two weeks.

His mother was informed it was being held for “chemical analysis”, a representative for Navalny said.

There has been no confirmation of the whereabouts of the body from Russian authorities, while efforts to locate it have been repeatedly shut down.

The wife of the late Russian opposition leader has accused them of hiding it.

In a video on Monday vowing to continue his work to fight for a “free Russia”, Yulia Navalnaya directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of killing her husband. She also alleged his body was being kept until traces of poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok had disappeared.

Her voice sometimes shaking with grief and anger, Ms Navalnaya asked viewers to stand alongside her and “share the fury and hate for those who dared to kill our future”.

Navalny’s death in prison was announced on Friday. The authorities at the Siberian penal colony where he was being held said he had never regained consciousness after he collapsed following a walk.

His mother and lawyer travelled to the remote colony as soon as news of his death broke.

Attempts to locate the body have repeatedly been shut down by the prison mortuary and local authorities.

On Monday, the Kremlin said an investigation into Navalny’s death was ongoing and that there were “no results” as of yet.

Later, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said that investigators had told Navalny’s mother Lyudmila they would not hand over the body for two weeks while they conducted a “chemical analysis”.

In her video message, Ms Navalnaya said she believed the authorities were waiting for Novichok to disappear from Navalny’s body.

Navalny, who was the Russian opposition’s most significant leader for the last decade, had been serving a 19-year sentence on charges many viewed as politically motivated.

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Western leaders have put the blame for Navalny’s death squarely on President Putin.

Responding to questions from reporters on Monday, President Joe Biden said: “The fact of the matter is: Putin is responsible, whether he ordered it or he is responsible for the circumstances he put that man in.”

During a press conference on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he Navalny had been “slowly murdered in a Russian jail by Putin’s regime”.

Both the EU and the US have said they are considering new sanctions on Russia following Navalny’s death.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, has also said he expects Britain and the rest of the G7 group of rich nations to impose fresh sanctions on any Russians involved in the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said comments by Western politicians in regards to Navalny’s death were “arrogant” and “unacceptable”.

Russian prison authorities said at the weekend that Navalny had suffered “sudden death syndrome”.

Avdiivka: Russia accused of executing prisoners of war after Ukraine withdraws

Last week, Ukrainian forces surrendered the eastern city of Avdiivka, which they had for months been desperately defending against a brutal Russian onslaught.

The conquest of Avdiivka represents a strategic and symbolic victory for Russia, strengthening its defence of the regional capital, Donetsk, and potentially opening up avenues for further offensives against Ukrainian-held territory.

Ukrainian commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi says he ordered a retreat from the city in order to save soldiers’ lives.

  • Is Russia turning the tide in Ukraine?

Now evidence of possible war crimes has emerged, as relatives of six soldiers found dead following the takeover of the city say they were executed after surrendering. Ukrainian authorities are investigating. Moscow has not yet commented.

The BBC has spoken to Ukrainian soldiers who withdrew from Avdiivka. Their testimony paints a picture of unresponsive commanders who refused their troops’ desperate pleas to retreat as they were encircled by Russian troops.

When the order finally came, they say, it was too late and and they were completely surrounded.

‘We don’t know what to do’

A video posted by Russian military bloggers following the capture of Avdiivka appears to show the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers believed to have surrendered after Russian troops captured their position.

Ivan Zhytnyk, Andriy Dubnytsky and Georgiy Pavlov have been identified by relatives as the dead soldiers in the video.

The BBC has spoken to them and to other soldiers who were at the base – named “Zenith”, on the south-eastern outskirts of Avdiivka – in order to reconstruct the chaotic events which led to their deaths.

For weeks, the fighters at the position had been waging an increasingly desperate battle to hold their position.

They had repeatedly asked their commanders to pull them out, fearing a full encirclement was imminent. But their requests were denied and they were told to wait.

On 13 February, the defenders of Zenith were finally ordered to withdraw to another position in Avdiivka but by then it was too late.

When the order to leave came, Ivan Zhyntyk, a paramedic, messaged his brother-in-law Dmitriy. “We were told to retreat and fight our way back. But behind us are [Russians]. I don’t know what to do,” he wrote.

Ivan and nine other men were tasked with attacking Russian positions and opening up a safe passage for the others. “They were the bravest ones,” says Viktor Bilyak, a soldier from the 110th brigade who was in Zenith.

But the group was confronted by Russian artillery and forced to turn back. Only three managed to return to base.

Ivan was among them, but he was badly injured and collapsed in a field before reaching the base. Hours later, his comrades from the Zenith base tried to rescue him.

Viktor Bilyak and three others put him on a stretcher and started carrying him out, under relentless Russian mortar fire. One of the shells landed nearby. Viktor, wounded, was forced to return to the base. Georgiy Pavlov came out to replace him.

Viktor says the group was then attacked by two kamikaze drones. “Instead of one wounded, we got five more.”

‘Leave them behind’

The soldiers eventually made it back to Zenith. Viktor and the soldiers’ relatives say they were promised evacuation by their superiors, but it never arrived.

Later, Ivan called his commander to learn about evacuation. The voice on the radio told him to get out of Zenith on their own, as sending a rescue team was too risky.

“What about the wounded?” he asked. “Leave them behind,” the voice instructed him.

“Everyone heard this conversation on radio and froze,” Viktor recalls.

Those who could walk, including Viktor, left the base at night without their wounded brothers-in-arms.

“Under relentless fire, carrying the wounded in the darkness was not possible,” he says.

They retreated in small groups. “The enemy opened fire with mortars, tanks, artillery, night kamikaze drones – all at once,” said Viktor. A group walking behind him was hit by an artillery shell. None of them survived.

While Viktor and others were trying to reach their main position in Avdiivka, six people were left behind at Zenith.

Five were wounded and couldn’t walk, including paramedic Ivan Zhytnyk, sniper Georgiy Pavlov and anti-tank fighter Andriy Dubnytsky. These men’s bodies were later identified in the video posted by Russian bloggers.

One, Mykola Savosik, was not wounded but decided to stay with his comrades. He believed he would be taken as a prisoner of war, Viktor said.

The 110th brigade posted a message on their Facebook page saying that because of the full encirclement of Zenith, Ukraine had “contacted organisations that hold talks on prisoner exchanges” to assist their soldiers.

The Russian side reportedly agreed to evacuate the Ukrainian wounded and later exchange them.

This message was passed on to Ivan and others at Zenith a few hours before Russians arrived. They were instructed not to show any resistance and save their lives.

But Ivan told his brother-in-law on the phone that he didn’t believe that Russians would “keep the wounded alive”.

‘Are they there?’

Around 11:15 on 15 February, Inna Pavlova received a message from her son Georgiy. “The Russians know that we are here alone,” he wrote. She hasn’t heard from him since.

Around that time, Ivan video-called his brother-in-law Dmitriy. In the middle of the conversation, a Russian soldier entered the building. “Put the gun away,” a voice could be heard in the video, recorded by Dmitriy.

“Are they there?” Dmitriy asked Ivan. “Yes,” Ivan quietly replied. At this point, Dmitriy stopped recording video, but the call continued for a couple of minutes longer.

“I saw a bearded man,” Dmitriy recalls. “I asked Ivan to give him the phone. I wanted to ask them not to kill them. But I heard the voice say: ‘Switch off the phone’.”

Ivan’s relatives were sure that he and other soldiers had been taken prisoner. “They didn’t resist,” says Ivan’s sister.

‘Our leadership allowed it to happen’

On 17 February, Col Gen Syrskyi ordered a full withdrawal from Avdiivka in order to “preserve the lives … of servicemen”. But it was too late for many soldiers, including the six who surrendered.

The following day, a video appearing to show their bodies was posted by Russian sources to social media.

Relatives of Ivan, Andriy and Georgiy say they have no doubt that they are the men who appear in the video.

“They were killed by the Russians,” says Georgiy’s mother, Inna Pavlova. “But our military leadership allowed it to happen.”

  • Determination and despair in Ukraine front-line town
  • Full cemeteries and empty homes: Ukrainians struggle to endure

South Korean doctors strike in shake to healthcare system

South Korea’s government has ordered more than 1,000 junior doctors to return to work after many staged walk-outs in protest of plans to increase the number of doctors in the system.

More than 6,000 interns and residents had resigned on Monday, said officials.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-per-patient ratios among OECD countries so the government wants to add more medical school placements.

But doctors oppose what they fear will be greater competition, observers say.

South Korea has a highly privatised healthcare system where most procedures are tied to insurance payments, and more than 90% of hospitals are private.

“More doctors mean more competition and reduced income for them… that is why they are against the proposal to increase physician supply,” said Prof Soonman Kwon, a public health expert at Seoul National University.

He said junior doctors were opposed to the policy because they were most likely to be affected at the start of their careers.

The South Korean Health Ministry on Monday said 1,630 doctors had not shown up to work on Monday and a wider group of 6,415 junior doctors had tended resignation letters. Organisers had pledged to strike from Tuesday.

The action has prompted significant concern about the country’s healthcare system this week. Several hospitals have moved onto emergency plans.

The walkout was planned by 2,700 junior doctors, who account for over a third of doctors on active duty at the country’s top five hospitals – and who form a core of emergency ward staffing, Yonhap News reported.

There are also fears it could trigger a wider strike among the industry – the protest actions have been endorsed by leading representatives group the Korean Medical Residents Association (Daejeon Association) as well as the Korean Intern Resident Association.

Doctors in South Korea are already among the most well-paid in the world, with 2022 OECD data showing the average specialist at a public hospital is paid nearly $200,000 (£159,000) a year.

The ‘Sun King CEOs’ requiring five days in office

Some high-profile CEOs are demanding full returns with a “command-and-control” mindset.
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In January, United Parcel Service CEO Carol Tomé announced the international logistics company was cutting 12,000 of its 85,000 management jobs. Workers who weren’t axed would be expected in the office five days a week starting March. For the corporate staffers who can perform some or all their duties from home, the mandate came as an ice-water bath.

For employees like these who spend most of their days in front of a computer, workplace experts insist remote and hybrid work cannot easily be stuffed back into the bottle. “It’s become so much of a mainstay now,” says Colleen Flaherty Manchester, professor in the work and organizations department at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, US. We can’t go backwards, she says.

Years of post-pandemic data has shown remote and hybrid work works. Researchers have found employees retain productivity and can help companies drive profits. There are also the intangible factors that breed employee loyalty, such as better work-life balance. Throughout the past several years, many CEOs courting the idea of full office returns have pulled back due to this data and the strong pushback of their workers. 

Yet these factors haven’t stopped a handful of companies, including some very high-profile employers, from issuing mandates – or at least heavy-handed, public suggestions – that corporate workers should be back at their desks five days a week.

In finance especially, major institutions – including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup – have instituted five-day-attendance policies for many of its staff. Boeing, too, has taken the decision to require much of its corporate workforce back at their desks. Some data shows even more top brass are considering it, especially among large organisations.

Some leaders are just used to a certain command-and-control mode – Stephen Meier

Some experts, including Stephen Meier, chair of the management division at Columbia Business School in New York, remain genuinely baffled why companies like UPS are putting up a fight over return-to-office. But he believes there’s a common thread among many of these firms: hard-line management tactics.

“You can’t continue that leadership style that you had before [the pandemic],” he says. “You need to actually empower [employees] … And, I think, some leaders are just used to a certain command-and-control model.”

This is true of many outspoken critics of remote work, such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who was one of the first to issue a “show-up-or-quit” ultimatum back in 2022. In a May 2023 interview with CNBC, Musk launched an expletive-laden attack on workers who wanted flexible set-ups, saying the “laptop class” was “living in la-la land”. 

Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, says Musk’s attitude towards remote work goes beyond the company’s needs. “His life is his company,” he says. “If you’re Elon Musk, you basically want to spend every minute awake and work. It’s the place your mind focuses on. You love it. It’s your career. It’s your aspiration where all your money is invested.” Some CEOs with this mentality expect the same of their workers: if I am back, you will be, too.

JPMorgan Chase is among the finance companies whose CEOs aren’t budging on office mandates (Credit: Getty Images)

This blunt-force, power-driven approach also showed up with JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, when he doubled-down on in-person work in July 2023. If employees wanted the prestigious organisation on their CVs, Dimon made clear they were to follow his mandate. “I completely understand why someone doesn’t want to commute an hour and a half every day. Totally get it… Doesn’t mean they have to have a job here, either,” he said.

Beyond the cult of personality, some of these strong-armed mandates may be driven by a different type of desire for control – especially in the current uncertain economy, when corporate performance and earnings are shaky.

Bloom points to a 2023 paper by two University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business professors who examined 137 different return-to-office announcements over the past year. The research found managers use return-to-office mandates “to reassert control over employees and blame employees as a scapegoat for bad firm performance”. Bloom says many CEOs who are leading companies in financial tumult feel pressure to make broad, sweeping – even “desperate” – changes to prove to shareholders they’re shoring up the bottom line.

He points to UPS’s Tomé, whose company reported a steeper-than-expected revenue drop in their Q4 2023 earnings. “The CEO has to stand up and say something, and has to take radical action,” says Bloom, “otherwise she’s out of a job. This is what’s going on.”

This kind of executive peacocking may convince some shareholders getting workers back in office will be a panacea – but experts say recalling employees could come back to haunt leaders.

The CEO has to stand up and say something, and has to take radical action, otherwise she’s out of a job – Nicholas Bloom

“I think a couple of these Sun King CEOs like Elon Musk have this problem,” says Bloom, a reference to French absolute monarch King Louis XIV. “They’re just out of touch with their employees, and they’re not used to hearing no… And they just rammed this thing through, which is a bad decision.”

He continues, “In the long run, performance is going to be improved by keeping employees happy, and reducing retention and recruitment costs. The research evidence shows quite clearly that for professionals and managers, hybrid is profitable for companies.”

Most companies will realise this, says Prithwiraj Choudhury, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. He sees firms that have taken a hard-line on return-to-office as the exception. He believes many companies opposed to remote work will soon change their tunes.

“I think no company in today’s world can enforce a policy that is anti-talent,” says Choudhury. “It’s just not going to work. You’re going to feel the pain. You’re going to see some of your best people leave. And then there will be a course correction.” Even prestigious firms, like JPMorgan Chase, may ultimately not be able to leverage their clout to snag and keep talented staff.

Still, it doesn’t mean every organisation will budge, especially as workers have lost some of their power in a tightening job market. Hubris is powerful – and in some cases, it may prevail, even at the expense of employee desire and data-driven logic.

Nina Simone on how fury fuelled her songs

In these exclusive BBC archive clips, Nina Simone describes how racism robbed her of her dream of being a classical pianist, and how in the 1960s she used her remarkable voice to demand equality for black Americans.

“I must say that Martin Luther King didn’t win too much with his non-violence,” Nina Simone told the BBC’s David Upshal on the Late Show in 1991. The singer was herself a prominent figure in the 1960s civil rights movement, but was frustrated by the cautious route of civil disobedience and peaceful protests championed by Martin Luther King Jr. Infuriated by the slow pace of change and anguished by the violence and brutal oppression she saw happening to black Americans daily, she felt a more militant approach was needed if racial equality was ever going to be achieved. In this, she felt more in tune with more radical tactics endorsed by civil rights leader Malcolm X and Black Power movements.

“[Martin Luther King] is remembered more than Malcolm X, and Malcolm X never had a chance to get the kind of popularity that Martin Luther King got. But I was never non-violent, never. I thought we should get our rights by any means necessary.”

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Simone’s move into political songwriting had been triggered by the shocking murder of four young black girls attending Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama, which was bombed by white extremists in September 1963. At that time, Nina had already established a career in music, with her 1959 debut album Little Girl Blue, and was preparing for an upcoming series of club dates. The horrific incident left her heartbroken and enraged.

She poured this anger into the electrifying song Mississippi Goddam (1964), which she wrote in less than an hour. A howl of righteous fury at the Alabama bombing, it also referenced the racially motivated murder of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till, who was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and the assassination of civil rights organiser Medgar Evers by a member of the Ku Klux Klan in June 1963.

Watch: ‘MLK didn’t win too much with his non-violence’

The crimes were so well known by the black community at the time, that she was able to invoke them merely by mentioning the names of the states where they happened, and the lyrics detail her grief, anger and exasperation with the sluggish pace of any meaningful change, with the lines “You keep on saying ‘Go slow. Go slow’. But that’s just the trouble.”

The song became a rallying cry for the fight against racial injustice and was banned in several southern states. Although she may not have agreed with Martin Luther King’s approach, she gave a performance of the song in 1965 at the march he led from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and again in 1968, three days after his assassination, at a concert in New York, which served as an outlet for the outrage and collective grief over his murder. Her music during the 1960s saw her become a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, her songs reflecting the turbulent times and giving voice to the pain and hopes of black Americans.

I wanted to be the world’s first black concert pianist for 22 years – Nina Simone

The song Four Women, written in 1966, portrayed the struggles and resilience of black women in the US, while 1969’s To Be Young, Gifted, and Black was a message to young people to take pride and joy in their identity and potential. The song is dedicated to the memory of her friend, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, the first black American female author to have a play performed on Broadway, who died of cancer at the age of 34.

Growing up in the South

Nina’s own life had been defined by growing up in a Jim Crow-segregated South, as well as her precocious musical talent. She was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933, the sixth of her parents’ eight children. Her exceptional gift for music was recognised and encouraged by her mother, a Methodist preacher. By the age of six, Nina was accompanying her mother’s sermons on the piano at church.

The wealthy family for whom Nina’s mother worked as a housekeeper saw her promise and funded formal piano lessons for her. “I played from the age of five by ear and started studying for 22 more years,” she told BBC Breakfast Time in 1988. These lessons inspired her love of classical music, especially the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and sparked a dream in the young Nina.

“I wanted to be the world’s first black concert pianist for 22 years. I certainly like the idea that I have the bearing of one because at least I can relate to that when I play these jazz songs that I have to play at my concerts all the time,” she told the BBC’s Late Show in 1991.

Watch: ‘They turned me down because I was black’

But despite the doors her talent could open for her, she found that prejudice would close just as many. During her first piano recital in a library when she was 12, her parents were asked to sit at the back because they were black. Nina refused to play unless her parents were moved to the front. After high school, she continued to pursue her dream of a career in classical music.

“I went to the Juilliard School of Music for two years and studied with Carl Friedberg and then I applied for a scholarship to Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and they turned me down because I was black and I never got over it.”

Feeling crushed and desperately in need of money, she took a job playing piano at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City. She was offered more money if she would sing as well. To prevent her religious parents finding out, she adopted the stage name “Nina Simone”. It was during these years that her unique sound would develop – a fusion of jazz, blues, gospel and classical, carried along with her rich, distinctive voice, which could be by turns heartbreaking or haughty, amorous or angry.

No matter what genre she picked, her classical techniques would infuse her songs, from the George and Ira Gershwin musical showtune I Loves You Porgy, to My Baby Just Cares for Me, an unlikely pop hit which enjoyed a surprise resurgence in 1987, when it was used in a Ridley Scott-directed Chanel No 5 commercial.

She herself described her music as “black classical music”.

“For years it was known as jazz, but it isn’t that. It’s a combination of gospel, pop, love songs, political songs, so it is black-oriented classical music, that’s what it is,” she told BBC Breakfast Time.

Extraordinarily versatile, and a captivating, if at times volatile performer, she remained ambivalent about the music that brought her fame and the audiences it attracted. She seemed to feel that despite her groundbreaking and remarkable body of work as a singer-songwriter, it did not bring her the respect that being a classical pianist would have brought her.

How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That, for me, is the definition of an artist – Nina Simone

“I suppose in my solitude I still regret that I didn’t become it, because you get an audience who listens to music, who do not smoke, who do not drink and they have come to listen to you. And it’s the world’s most revered kind of music, classical music is, all over Europe and all over the world. It’s regarded as the highest and, of course, I always wanted to be associated with the highest type of music so in that sense I regret it,” she told the BBC.

Perhaps though, given her gifts, background and the tumultuous times she was living through, she would have always felt compelled to use her art as a platform to fearlessly speak out, whatever path had been open to her.

“I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself,” she said in an interview in 1969. “That, to me, is my duty. At this crucial time in our lives when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved.

“How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That, for me, is the definition of an artist.”

In History is a series which uses the BBC’s unique audio and video archive to explore historical events that still resonate today.

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