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Witness History


History as told by the people who were there.


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History as told by the people who were there.




Crimea's Soviet holiday camp

Artek, on the shores of the Black Sea in Crimea, was a hugely popular Soviet holiday camp. Maria Kim Espeland was one of the thousands of children who visited every year. In 2014, she told Lucy Burns about life in the camp in the 1980s. (Photo: A group of children attending Artek. Credit: Irina Vlasova)


Russia annexes Crimea

In 2014, Russia annexed the strategic Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, a move seen by Kyiv and many other countries as illegal. The crisis it caused was so acute the world seemed on the brink of a new cold war. In 2022, one Crimean woman told Louise Hidalgo what it was like to live through. (Photo: A soldier outside the Crimean parliament in 2014. Credit: Getty Images)


Whistler: Creating one of the world’s biggest ski resorts

In 2003, Whistler Blackcomb won its bid to host the Winter Olympic Games for the first time. It was sixth time lucky for the Canadian ski resort which had been opened to the public in 1966. The mountain – which is named after the high-pitched whistle of the native marmot – has been through a lot of iterations and one man has been there to see nearly all of them. Hugh Smythe, known as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Whistler, has been sharing his memories of the mountain with Matt Pintus. (Photo: Whistler mountain. Credit: Getty Images)


Columbus Lighthouse

In 1992, Columbus Lighthouse opened in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It was designed to house the ashes of explorer, Christopher Columbus. The huge memorial is built in the form of a horizontal cross and has 157 searchlight beams that when turned on project a gigantic cross into the sky. The light is so powerful it can be seen from over 300km away in Puerto Rico. Tour guide and historian, Samuel Bisono tells Gill Kearsley about the struggle to get the monument built. (Photo: Columbus Lighthouse. Credit: Gill Kearsley)


Trans murder in Honduras

In June 2009, transgender sex worker and activist Vicky Hernandez was murdered in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. The killers were never identified or punished, but in 2021 the Inter-American Human Rights Court found the Honduran state responsible for the crime. It ordered the government to enact new laws to prevent discrimination and violence against LGBT people. Mike Lanchin hears from Claudia Spelman, a trans activist and friend of Vicky, and the American human rights lawyer Angelita Baeyens. A CTVC production for the BBC World Service. (Photo: A protestor holds a sign saying “Late Justice is not Justice”. Credit: Wendell Escoto/AFP/Getty Images)


Icelandic women's strike

In October 1975, 90% of women in Iceland took part in a nationwide protest over inequality. Factories and banks were forced to close and men were left holding the children as 25,000 women took to the streets. In 2015, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, later Iceland's first female president, told Kirstie Brewer about the impact of that day. (Photo: Women take to the streets. Credit: The Icelandic Women's History Archives)


The Soviet scientist who made two-headed dogs

In the 1950s, Soviet scientist Dr Vladimir Demikhov shocks the world with his two-headed dog experiments. He grafts the head and paws of one dog onto the body of another. One of his creations lives for 29 days. He wants to prove the possibilities of transplant surgery, which was a new field of medicine at the time. Consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Igor Konstantinov, tells Vicky Farncombe about the "difficult emotions" he experiences when he looks at photos of the creatures. This programme includes a description of one of the experiments which some listeners may find upsetting. (Photo: Vladimir Demikhov. Credit: Getty Images)


Supermalt: The malt drink created after the Nigerian civil war

In 1972, a food supplement used by soldiers during the Nigerian civil war was turned into a popular malt drink by a brewery in the Danish town of Faxe. It was called Supermalt and it became so popular that the Nigerian government decided to ban all imports of malt into the country. Peter Rasmussen created the drink and he has been sharing his memories with Matt Pintus. (Photo: Supermalt. Credit: Royal Unibrew Ltd)


The small Irish town known as ‘Little Brazil’

Gort in the west of Ireland is known by the nickname ‘Little Brazil’ because it’s home to so many Brazilians. They first came to Ireland in the late 1990s to work in the town’s meat factory. Lucimeire Trindade was just 24-years-old when she and three friends arrived in the town, unable to speak a word of English or Irish. Nearly 25 years later, Lucimeire considers Gort her true home. She tells Vicky Farncombe how being in Ireland changed her outlook on life. “I learned that a woman can have their own life, especially going to the pub alone without their husbands!” (Photo: Traditional Brazilian carnival dancers strut their stuff in Gort. Credit: John Kelly, Clare Champion)


The Juliet letters

The Juliet Club is in Verona, Italy, a place known throughout the world as being the city of love. The club has been replying to mail addressed to Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, Juliet since the early 1990s. The story of the Juliet letters started in the 1930s when the guardian of what is known as Juliet’s tomb began gathering the first letters people left at the grave and answering them. The task was taken on by the Juliet Club which was founded by Giulio Tamassia in 1972. His daughter, Giovanna, tells Gill Kearsley that thousands of love letters from around the world are each given a personal response. (Photo: Letters to the Juliet Club. Credit: Leonello Bertolucci/Getty Images)


Patty Hearst: Rebel heiress

When wealthy newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by far-left militants in February 1974, America saw her as a victim. But two months later, she announced she had decided to join the group. Soon, she was accompanying it on an attempted bank robbery. In 2010, Louise Hidalgo spoke to Carol Pogash, a journalist who followed the story. (Photo: Patty being led to her trial. Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)


The WW2 escape line that fooled the Nazis

In 1940 a daring rescue operation began to help Allied servicemen escape from Nazi-occupied France. French resistance fighter Roland Lepers was among those who guided stranded Allied soldiers and airmen to neutral Spain during World War Two. The 1,000 km route became known as the Pat O’Leary Escape Line - or the Pat Line. It’s estimated 7,000 Allied personnel escaped through this route and similar escape lines, thanks to a network of people who clothed, fed and hid them. Peter Janes was one of those British servicemen. Roland’s daughter Christine and Peter’s son Keith, speak to Jane Wilkinson about their fathers’ adventures. (Photo: German-controlled checkpoint in France, 1940. Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)


The Battle of Versailles: Catwalk clash of American and French fashion

In 1973, a fashion show was held in France which became known as the Battle of Versailles, a duel between designs from modern America and the capital of couture, Paris. Five American designers, including Oscar de la Renta and Halston, were invited to show their work alongside five of France’s biggest names, including Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy. The aim was to raise money to help restore Versailles, a 17th Century palace built by King Louis XIV, but the media billed it as a competition between the two countries. By the end, the Americans were declared the winners. The show also highlighted their industry’s racial diversity on an international stage, with 10 women of colour modelling work by US designers. Bethann Hardison, one of the models, talks to Jane Wilkinson about the lasting impact of the astonishing show. (Photo: Bethann Hardison at Versailles in 1973. Credit: Jean-Luce Hure/Bridgeman Images)


How Rosa Parks took a stand against racism

Rosa Parks was brought up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era, when state laws enforced segregation in practically all aspects of daily life. Public schools, water fountains, trains and buses all had to have separate facilities for white people and black people. As a passionate civil rights activist, Rosa was determined to change this. In December 1955, she was travelling home from the department store where she worked as a seamstress. When a white passenger boarded the bus, Rosa was told to give up her seat. Her refusal to do so and subsequent arrest sparked a bus boycott in the city of Montgomery, led by Dr Martin Luther King. Using BBC interviews with Rosa and Dr King, Vicky Farncombe tells how Rosa’s story changed civil rights history and led to the end of segregation. This programme includes outdated and offensive language. (Photo: Rosa Parks sitting on a bus. Credit: Getty Images)


Lucha Reyes: Peruvian music star

Lucha Reyes was one of Peru’s greatest singers. She was born into poverty in 1936 and fought terrible health problems and racism throughout her life. But it didn’t stop her becoming a star of Peruvian Creole music - a fusion of waltzes, Andean and Afro-Peruvian styles. In the early 1970s she recorded hits including Regresa and Tu Voz. One of the few black Peruvian celebrities of her era, she was a trailblazer for black women in the country. Polo Bances played the saxophone in her band, accompanying her on many of her greatest records. He celebrates her life with Ben Henderson. (Photo: Lucha Reyes. Credit: Javier Ponce Gambirazio)


How a young mother was saved from death by stoning

In March 2002, a young Nigerian Muslim woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and conceiving a child out of wedlock. Amina Lawal’s case attracted huge international attention and highlighted divisions between the Christian and Muslim regions in the country. Hauwa Ibrahim, one of the first female lawyers from northern Nigeria, defended Amina and helped her secure an acquittal. The case would have very personal consequences for Hauwa who went on to adopt Amina’s daughter. She tells Vicky Farncombe how the ground-breaking case also changed attitudes in Nigeria towards defendants from poor, rural communities. (Photo: Hauwa Ibrahim (left) with Amina Lawal, Credit: Getty Images)


Queen of the 'fro

In May 1986, 16-year-old Charlotte Mensah went to work in the UK’s first luxury Afro-Caribbean hair salon, Splinters. In London’s glamorous Mayfair, Splinters had earned a world-class reputation and hosted the likes of Diana Ross. Charlotte says it looked more like a five-star hotel than a salon and that its owner, Winston Isaacs expected no less than perfection from all his staff. Now a giant of the hair care industry in her own right, Charlotte has become known as the 'Queen of the 'fro'. She tells Anoushka Mutanda-Dougherty about her roots and how training at the legendary Splinters changed her life. This programme includes an account of racial bullying. (Photo: Young Charlotte in the salon. Credit: Charlotte Mensah)


First internet cafe

The first commercial internet cafe opened in London on 1 September 1994. Eva Pascoe, from Poland, is one of the founders of Cyberia. She claims that Kylie Minogue was amongst the famous visitors and learnt how to use the internet at the cafe. Eva tells Gill Kearsley the story of how cakes, computers and Kylie came together to make this new venture a success. (Photo: Surfers at the Cyberia cafe. Credit: Mathieu Polak/Sygma via Getty Images)


The Arctic’s doomsday seed vault

In January 2008, seeds began arriving at the world's first global seed vault, buried deep in a mountain on an Arctic island, 1,000km north of the Norwegian coast. The vault was built to ensure the survival of the world's food supply and agricultural history in the event of a global catastrophe. In 2019, Louise Hidalgo spoke to the man whose idea it was, Dr Cary Fowler. (Photo: Journalists and cameramen outside the entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in 2008. Credit: Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)


Brazil's Landless Workers Movement

In 1980, poor rural workers set up camp on land owned by the rich at Encruzilhada Natalino in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Brazil's government sent in the army to evict them and violent clashes followed. It was a formative moment in the history of one of Latin America's biggest social movements, Brazil's Landless Workers Movement (MST). Maria Salete Campigotto was a teacher living in the camp with her husband and young son. She speaks to Ben Henderson. (Photo: Brazil's Landless Workers Movement meeting. Credit: Patrick Siccoli/Getty Images)