BBC 2024-02-22 22:31:49

Alexei Navalny: Putin critic’s mother says she has been shown his body

Alexei Navalny’s mother has said she has been shown his body, but that the Russian authorities are pressuring her to allow a “secret” burial.

In a video address, Lyudmila Navalnaya said she had been brought to a morgue where she signed a death certificate.

The former opposition leader’s press secretary said a medical report presented to Ms Navalnaya stated he died of natural causes.

Navalny’s widow has said he was killed by Russian authorities.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said the law required officials to hand over her son’s body, but that she was being “blackmailed” as they refused to do so. She alleged authorities were setting conditions for the burial of her son, including the place, time and manner of his burial.

She said: “They want to take me to the outskirts of the cemetery to a fresh grave and say: ‘Here lies your son.'”

Ms Navalnaya travelled to the northern Russian town of Salekhard following the news of her son’s death in a nearby penal colony six days ago.

She has previously been denied access to her son’s body, on Tuesday appealing personally to Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow her to bury him.

In Thursday’s address, Lyudmila Navalnaya said she was being threatened by the authorities.

“Looking into my eyes, they say that if I do not agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body.”

She said she was told by investigators: “Time is not on your side, the corpse is decomposing.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya was speaking in a video posted to her late son’s YouTube channel, and finished the address by demanding his body be returned to her.

There was no immediate response from Russian authorities.

Separately, on Thursday US President Joe Biden met Mr Navalny’s widow Yulia and his daughter Dasha Navalnaya in San Francisco.

“The president expressed his admiration for Alexei Navalny’s extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the US was preparing to issue new sanctions on Russia.

Navalny died in a prison colony on 16 February. Prison officials said he had fallen ill following a “walk”.

But Yulia Navalnaya has claimed that he was killed on the orders of Mr Putin and vowed to continue his struggle.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations, calling Western reaction to the death “hysterical”.

Political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya said that the decision to show Ms Navalnaya her son’s body indicated authorities wanted to persuade her to “make a deal.”

“The body is given back, but under the condition that the funeral does not become a political event,” she wrote in a post on her Telegram channel.

In August 2020, the former opposition leader was poisoned using the Novichok nerve agent by a team of would-be assassins from the Russian secret services.

Airlifted to Germany, he recovered there before returning to Russia in January 2021, where he was imprisoned.

Attempts at commemorating his death have been met by a heavy-handed response from Russian authorities, with makeshift monuments cleared and hundreds arrested.

Valencia fire: High-rise building engulfed by flames in Spain

A high-rise residential building in the Spanish city of Valencia has been engulfed by a major fire.

The blaze – which is ongoing – occurred at a 14-storey block in the Campanar neighbourhood and spread to an adjoining building.

Firefighters have been seen rescuing people from balconies, and local media reports others may be trapped inside.

At least 13 people, including six firefighters, have been injured.

More than 20 fire crews are tackling the fire and people have been urged to stay away from the area.

The building contains 138 flats and was home to 450 residents, newspaper El Pais reported, citing the building’s manager.

Local reports said firefighters had rescued several residents using cranes, including a couple living on the seventh floor.

One woman told TVE she had seen firefighters attempting to rescue a teenage boy trapped on the building’s first floor.

In the hours after the fire rapidly took hold, questions have been asked in Spain about the materials used in the building’s construction.

Esther Puchades, vice president of the College of Industrial Technical Engineers of Valencia, told Spanish news agency Efe she had previously inspected the building.

She claimed its exterior featured a polyurethane material, which is no longer in wide use because of fears over flammability.

One man who lives on the second floor of the building told TV channel La Sexta that the flames grew rapidly after the fire started, reportedly on the fourth floor.

“The fire spread in a matter of 10 minutes,” he said, adding that material on the facade of the building may have caused the fire to spread.

David Higuera, an engineer, told El País the building’s cladding may have been the cause of the rapid spread of the fire.

The aluminium plates with an foam insulator making up the outer layer of the building are “very good at insulating against heat and cold, but very combustible,” he said.

Firefighters were called at around 17:30 local time. A field hospital has been set up in the area, RTVE reported. People displaced from their homes would be housed in hotels, authorities said.

Writing on X (formerly known as Twitter) Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: “Dismayed by the terrible fire in a building in Valencia… I want to convey my solidarity to all the people affected and recognition to all the emergency personnel already deployed at the scene.”

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Spain: Moment fire crews rescue two people from burning tower block

Spain: Moment fire crews rescue two people from burning tower block

A 14-storey residential block in the Spanish city of Valencia has been engulfed in a fire, and has spread to an adjoining building.

More than 20 fire crews are attempting to contain the blaze.

In video captured by a camera crew at the scene, two people can be seen being rescued by fire crews in a cherry picker.

Several people are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation, including members of the emergency response teams.

Read more here.

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Why plov is the ultimate Silk Road dish

Uzbekistan’s beloved national dish, plov, is widely believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and so it’s traditionally eaten on Thursdays – a popular day for conceiving children.

Plov – a medley of rice, vegetables, meat and spices – is popular throughout the countries of the Silk Road, but it’s most closely associated with Uzbekistan. Widely consumed at least once a week, it’s the country’s national dish and is considered an indispensable part of family celebrations, served at births, weddings and funerals and to honour Muslims returning from Hajj.

According to legend, plov was first invented for Alexander the Great, who ordered the creation of a satisfying meal to sustain his army during their campaigns in Central Asia. “We don’t have historical records to prove that, but what we do know is that by the 9th and 10th Centuries, plov had become very popular here,” said Nilufar Nuriddinova, an Uzbek tour guide who is passionate about food history. “Rice has been a staple crop in this region for more than 1,000 years. It requires hard physical work to grow, as does harvesting crops and raising livestock. So, plov would’ve been an ideal high-calorie, nutrient-rich dish for the largely agricultural society.”

Plov is now considered such a vital part of the country’s culinary traditions that it was recently inscribed on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. “It is more than just a meal,” Nuriddinova explained. “It creates social bonds and encourages friendship; it brings our nation together.”

She told me even the word is an important part of the Uzbek language. “It appears in many everyday expressions such as, ‘If you know you have only one day left on Earth, spend it eating plov,'” she said. “It means that afterwards you can die happy. In Uzbekistan, life without plov is unthinkable.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

There are more than 100 types of plov in Uzbekistan. Recipes differ according to the region and the season, but each variation contains key ingredients whose initials gave the dish its full name, osh palov: “o” for ob (water in Persian), “sh” for sholi (rice), “p” for piyoz (onion), “a” for ayoz (carrot), “l” for lamh (meat), “o” for olio (fat or oil), and “v” for vet (salt).

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The country’s most famous plov restaurant is Besh Qozon (also known as the Central Asian Plov Centre), located in the Yunusabad neighbourhood of the capital, Tashkent. Thought to be one of the largest plov restaurants in Central Asia, Besh Qozon serves between 5,000 and 8,000 customers daily, with plov made in nine vast wood-fired cauldrons known as kazan.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

According to Uzbek tradition, every plate of plov must be accompanied by non (bread). Besh Qozon’s resident nonvoy (baker) is Shokirjon Nurmatov. Like all kitchen staff, he performs a special ritual before beginning work: he purifies himself, joins his hands together in the shape of a bowl and asks for a dua (blessing from Allah) to do his job successfully. Only then can he begin producing his daily batch of more than 3,000 loaves.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

In the family home, plov is traditionally made by women; in restaurants (and on special occasions), it’s the reserve of a male chef known as an oshpaz. “That’s because it’s tough physical work to produce huge quantities,” said Fayzullah Sagdiyev, the oshpaz at Besh Qozon. “My largest kazan can hold up to three tonnes of food.” He told me he faces other even greater pressures. “If a guest doesn’t finish their plov because they don’t like the taste, it’s considered so shameful that the oshpaz may consider taking their own life,” he said. “Thankfully, it’s never happened to me.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The process of cooking plov follows a strict order: it begins with the browning of meat (a mix of mutton and beef), before the addition of white and yellow carrots, onion, rice, water and spices. Sagdiyev uses a mix of salt, pepper, turmeric and principally cumin – which first arrived in Uzbekistan from India along the Silk Road. A local touch to Besh Qozon’s chaykhana plov is the addition of chickpeas and kishmish (a sour raisin)before it is slow-cooked for four hours.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

Thursdays and Sundays are considered the most popular days to make and eat plov in Uzbekistan. “It’s likely because in ancient times, people from the countryside could only travel to the city bazaars to sell their goods twice a week,” Nuriddinova explained. “So, they had more money on Thursdays and Sundays to be able to afford to buy all the necessary ingredients.”

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

Sagdiyev told me that plov’s prevalence on a Thursday is also because it is thought to have strong qualities as an aphrodisiac, and so is perfect to eat on what is a popular day for conceiving children. He went on to tell me that some men joke that the word plov actually means foreplay, that oil from the bottom of the kazan is sometimes drunk as a form of natural Viagra and that many oshpaz will reserve the best meat for Thursdays to give male customers extra sexual power.

(Credit: Simon Urwin)

The tradition of conceiving on Thursdays is linked to the country’s strong Islamic beliefs. “It is thought that the Prophet Muhammad was conceived on a Thursday,” Sagdiyev said. “So, if you want your baby to be intelligent, well behaved, be blessed by the angels and have a heart open to receiving God, this is a good day to do it. But only after eating a plate of plov.”

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Odysseus: The mission to prevent ‘spaceship sandblasting’

A US private company’s first Moon mission is due to touch down on Thursday. Its missions could help a new generation of lunar astronauts in the future.

Lunar exploration is heating up once more, and it is also changing. Intuitive Machines, a firm based in Houston, Texas, is hoping to become the first commercial company to successfully land on the Moon on Thursday, 22 February.

The strikingly tall, hexagonal cylinder Nova-C lander, named Odysseus, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 15 February and successfully entered lunar orbit on 21 February. It is aiming to soft-land in the crater Malapert A in the region of the Moon’s south pole at around 22:30GMT (16:30CT) 22 February.

If successful, the mission will be the first American lunar landing in more than 50 years, since the crewed Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. It’s part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative intended to support the agency’s Artemis programme that is aiming to send astronauts back to the Moon and even build a permanent base there. An earlier attempt to land on the Moon by the Peregrine mission from Astrobotic under the same initiative in January was unsuccessful.

But landing on the lunar surface is only the beginning. Odysseus will then begin a suite of experiments that will hopefully provide data useful for a wave of future missions and help to ensure the safety of humans when they eventually return to set foot on the lunar regolith.

A set of four tiny cameras funded by Nasa are installed around the base of Odysseus. These cameras, or the Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (Scalpss), are designed to collect still frame and video footage of the landing and how the exhaust plume from Odysseus’s landing engines interact with the dusty lunar surface. Teams of scientists back on Earth will then use the data to build 3D models of the landing site, before and after landing, measuring how the landscape changes. While small, these instruments will help with the work needed to make sustained lunar exploration safe.

The lander will touch down on the Malapert-A crater near the Moon’s South Pole (Credit: Nasa)

While the Apollo missions provided a treasure trove of information and insights about the Moon, they also uncovered issues that still need to be answered before humanity returns.

When Apollo 12 landed on the Moon in November 1969, it set down within 200m (656ft) of an earlier visitor to our planet’s celestial neighbour. Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked to Surveyor 3, a robotic lander that had been on the lunar surface for two and a half years, cut pieces off and brought them back to Earth. Resulting analysis revealed that the Apollo 12 landing had sandblasted Surveyor 3.

“The rocket exhaust itself is typically going about three or four kilometres per second (6,710-8,947mph),” says Phil Metzger, a former Nasa scientist who is now a planetary physicist at the University of Central Florida. “And the smallest particles will be accelerated up to that velocity… That’s like five times the speed of a bullet.”

With no atmosphere to stop it or slow it down, the dust and rocks blown off the Moon travel far and fast.

“It goes literally globally around the Moon and even blows completely off the Moon and can sandblast spacecraft that are in orbit,” says Metzger.

It becomes a question of how much damage is acceptable – Phil Metzger

The US-led Artemis programme is intended to be more sustainable than the “flags and footprints” approach of earlier missions. Setting up an Artemis Base Camp on the Moon means making frequent precise landings – and launches from the lunar surface – in close proximity to each other. This will have to be done while keeping both hardware and astronauts safe.

Sandblasting your lunar setup thus becomes a big issue, and could impact landing site selection, the design of spacecraft and mission planning.

“It becomes a question of how much damage is acceptable,” says Metzger. “If you have sensitive instruments, or if you have hardware that’s going to be exposed to many sandblasting events, such as at a lunar outpost, where you’ll be having spacecraft landing and departing frequently, then we need to manage the amount of damage.”

Landing pads, berms, curtains or other structures could be used to block streams of accelerated lunar dust. The current mission may help designers work out what material they should be made of.

The lander’s technologies include cameras to capture how much moondust is blasted into space when the lander fires its rocket exhausts (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

It’s an issue that will require international coordination and collaboration. China is leading its own group of countries for another lunar exploration project: the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). One precursor mission, Chang’e-7, slated for 2026, aims to land near Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole, an area also under consideration for Nasa’s crewed Artemis 3 landing. (Read more about why there’s a rush to explore the Moon’s enigmatic South Pole.)

Damaging another country’s spacecraft when landing your own could cause problems – or even an international incident. Knowing how far away a mission should land from another, and agreeing on this internationally, would be an important step.

“That’s where missions like this Intuitive Machines landing become very helpful, because we can get data that will enable us to solve the physics,” Metzger says. “Then, once we have a better grasp of the science, that can inform policy decisions going forward.”

Another instrument aboard Odysseus is a small laser retroreflector. Developed by Nasa, the tiny Laser Retroreflective Array (LRA) could once again play an outsized role in lunar exploration. An LRA is a passive aluminium hemisphere just 5cm (2in) in diameter weighing just 20g (0.7oz). On this hemisphere are eight fused silica glass retroreflectors designed to reflect light directly back to its source. A spacecraft shining a laser can thus bounce light off an LRA and measure the time taken to receive a pulse back to determine the distance between them.

Navigation and communications satellites will play a role in supporting Artemis operations on the Moon

“Lasing from Earth to specific points on the surface to identify their exact location can be part of the process of how we generate a precise model of where everything is on the Moon. This is needed to be able to navigate,” says James Carpenter, the European Space Agency’s (Esa) discipline lead for planetary sciences.

LRAs can act as markers to help orbiting satellites to establish navigation and positioning services similar to the Global Positioning System (GPS) that has become part of our everyday lives back on Earth. The more of these there are, the easier and quicker it is for a spacecraft to determine its position in orbit. Navigation and communications satellites will play a role in supporting Artemis operations on the Moon, allowing both coordination and and tracking of movement on the surface.

Surveyor 3 was inspected by astronauts from Apollo 12 and was found to have been “sandblasted” by dust kicked up by the lander touching down (Credit: Nasa)

Retroreflectors have been used before, on Apollo missions and a couple of Soviet-era Luna spacecraft. These have been targeted by powerful Earth-based lasers to make precise measurements of the distance between the Earth and Moon. (Find out how reflectors left by Apollo astronauts have revealed the Moon is drifting away from the Earth.)

“The current reflectors are located across a very limited range of latitudes and longitudes, which limits what we can measure. If we can extend the range of locations where these reflectors are located then it will give us much better measurements and we can look deeper,” says Carpenter.

Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully tested the new LRA recently by “pinging” India’s Chandrayaan-3 lander.

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Having LRAs dotted around the Moon on landers such as Odysseus could also help spacecraft with range-finding and making precision landings needed to build up lunar infrastructure. It could also help spacecraft land in otherwise dark places, such as close to permanently shadowed regions, or patches where the Sun never shines near the lunar south pole, the region in which Odysseus aims to land.

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus is just one of a number of lunar missions this year alone. But if its mission is a success, it could help could help pave the way for more advanced, safe, and efficient Moon missions – and eventually a lunar settlement.

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