The best stories of the year from Uncovering Europe

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By Lauren Chadwick
Young cadets attend a ceremony on the first day of school at a cadet lyceum in Kyiv, Ukraine
Young cadets attend a ceremony on the first day of school at a cadet lyceum in Kyiv, Ukraine   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Uncovering Europe is your daily dose of original storytelling from across the continent.

Each weekday at 7 pm CET we bring you a European story that goes beyond the headlines to find the real issues shaping the continent.

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Here's the best of the series from this past year. 

1. Belarus sprinter who ran from Lukashenko tells Euronews about her new life exiled in Poland

While life for Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya would have been harder back home, her situation exiled in Poland is far from perfect.

The 24-year-old, who fled the Tokyo games after Belarus officials tried to force her onto a flight home, tells Euronews she now has bodyguards with her round-the-clock.

Tsimanouskaya, living with her husband in Poland after they were both given humanitarian visas, says they control her every move, all day.

AP Photo
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya holds up an Olympic-related T-shirt with the slogan "I Just Want to Run" after her news conference in WarsawAP Photo

“I can’t meet my friends, because the guards do not know them," Tsimanouskaya told Euronews. "We can do interviews if they are planned ahead, and I can go training or swimming."

"They say it can be organised, but I cannot go to shops or the park. Every time I want to go out, I have to get permission."

Read the full article.

2. Croatia and Bosnia are still locked in a land dispute over 'two pebbles' in the sea

Croatia is very proud — and possessive — of its glittering coastline.

Known as "the land of 1,000 islands," it seems to be unwilling to sign over two of them (it actually has about 1,244 islands) to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

To this day, both countries claim ownership over Mali Školj and Veliki Školj, and the tip of the Klek peninsula, which is found nearby.

Read the full article.  

3. France election: Who is Eric Zemmour and why is he so controversial?

Whether it's Jean-Marie or his daughter Marine, the Le Pens have been dominant figures on the extremes of France's right-wing for decades.

But, now, with five months to go before France's next presidential election, a new personality has burst onto the scene: Eric Zemmour.

After months of conjecture, the political novice in November confirmed he's entering the race.

Read the full article.  

4. Meet the graffiti artist-turned-MP who wants to see Moldova and Romania become one country

For more than a decade, Romanians have become used to seeing -- emblazoned on buildings or on walls beside busy highways -- three words book-ended by red, yellow and blue: ‘Basarabia e România’.

DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP or licensors
A woman sells t-shirts featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin in Chisinau on October 28, 2016.DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP or licensors

Bessarabia no longer exists, but when it did it was the land that Russia and later the Soviet Union occupied between the River Prut and both banks of the River Dniester, as far east as the border with Ukraine and west with Romania.

It is the land now known by another name, Moldova.

Read the full article.

5. A year on, Poland's abortion ruling is causing ‘incalculable harm' to women and girls

It has been a year since Poland's Constitutional Tribunal further tightened what was already one of the most restrictive abortion legislation in Europe.

On October 22, 2020, the court ruled it was unconstitutional for women to terminate their pregnancies even in cases of severe and irreversible foetal defects, leading to a near-total ban on abortion in the mostly Roman Catholic country.

"What happened last year was basically an example of what happens if a political power destroys the rule of law and destroys judicial independence," said Marta Lempart, the co-founder of the Polish Women’s Strike movement, insisting that the ban on abortion came from an "illegitimate" and "politicised" tribunal.

Read the full article.

6. Netflix has ‘solved’ the Olof Palme murder. Not everyone in Sweden is convinced

On 28 February 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was gunned down in the street outside a cinema in Stockholm after taking in a movie with his wife and son.

His killer was never found.

BERTIL ERICSON/AFP
Swedish politician Olof Palme makes the victory sign after the Socialdemocrats election victory, September 19, 1982.BERTIL ERICSON/AFP

Palme, who led Sweden from 1969 to 1976 and 1982 until his death, was a divisive figure who was not short of enemies. An outspoken critic of the US war in Vietnam and supporter of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, he favoured the expansion and extension of Sweden’s welfare state.

Read the full article.

7. Meet the baptist priest fighting for LGBT rights in conservative Georgia

Hidden behind two apartment blocks in an alley in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili's church doesn’t look like much from the outside.

But for several years, his church has pushed for change in conservative Georgia, and it often goes against the grain, pushing barriers wherever and whenever it can.

So when Georgia's LGBT community faced violent protestors in the streets this summer, for example, Songulashvili's congregation marched in solidarity, condemning the attacks.

Read the full article.

8. Is eastern Ukraine slipping back into a full-blown war?

Tension is growing in eastern Ukraine where the army has been locked in a conflict with Russian-backed separatists for seven years.

Russia has been deploying large amounts of military hardware near the border and there has been a surge in fighting in recent weeks.

Euronews has visited Mayorsk in Donetsk where we met with Ukrainian soldiers. Visible through the trees from here is the city of Horlivka, controlled by the Russian-backed separatists. It's an area that has seen an increase in fighting.

Read the full article.

9. Meet the bike-loving Finnish city that keeps pedalling even in the snow

In a city blanketed by snow for five months each year, you wouldn't blame cyclists for putting their bikes into hibernation during the winter.

But the people of Oulu, Finland, are made of stronger stuff.

Despite the long, dark, and snow-filled winters, locals keep pedalling their way to and from work and school.

Read the full article.

10. How does Europe's largest Afghan diaspora view the crisis back home?

With more than a quarter-million Afghans and their descendants calling it home, Germany boasts the largest Afghan diaspora in Europe.

Afghans and Afghan-Germans have built a lively -- if often -- overlooked community in Germany.

Markus Scholz/AP
Women hold signs during a demonstration for the reception of threatened people from Afghanistan, in Hamburg, Germany, Sunday Aug. 22, 2021.Markus Scholz/AP

Part of their identity is tied to a longing for home, which has only been intensified as the situation in Afghanistan grows increasingly dire.

Read the full article.

11. What is COVAX and is it helping poor countries get access to COVID-19 vaccines?

It's a stark warning about the future of the pandemic: that without global access to lifesaving vaccines, COVID-19 is here to stay.

The virus has travelled to every continent and infected more than 100 million people globally in just over a year since it was first declared a global health emergency.

Humanitarian activists and experts are raising the alarm about the wide gaps in vaccine distribution between the world's richest and poorest countries.

Read the full article.