In Review

Podcasts of the week: the war in Ukraine and Covid conspiracies

From a selection of primers on the Ukraine crisis to a ‘jaw-dropping’ tale of a footballing fraud

On the BBC’s “brilliant” new Ukrainecast pod you sense the full might of the corporation “swinging into action” to bring clarity to the horrific events unfolding in Ukraine, said James Marriott in The Times. Victoria Derbyshire, Gabriel Gatehouse and Vitaly Shevchenko, the Russia editor at BBC Monitoring, draw on experts, foreign correspondents, audio archives and interviews with civilians in the war zone.

These last contributions are especially compelling. In the episode titled The Convoy Advances, we hear a Ukrainian woman whose family in Russia have been so duped by Putin’s propaganda that they “will not believe there are Russian shells falling all around her. Putin will keep her safe, they promise.” It is “chilling stuff”.

Also highly recommended: the Ukraine and Russia episode of The Rest Is History; the James Meek episode of The LRB Podcast; the Niall Ferguson episode of The Wall Street Journal’s Free Expression; and Ukraine specials from Pod Save the World.

For a podcast focused on events closer to home, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer, I recommend Death by Conspiracy? – a gripping new series from the BBC’s “disinformation reporter” Marianna Spring. Its subject is the death from Covid-19 of Gary Matthews in January 2021. Matthews, a healthy 46-year-old from Shrewsbury with a close circle of friends and family, was gradually drawn into a community of conspiracy theorists who didn’t believe Covid exists.

When he was infected himself, he didn’t seek medical help and sadly died. Spring is “dogged and fair” in exploring the events that led up to his death and the series includes “empathetic” interviews with his friends. One of them “believed – and still does – that Covid isn’t real and that ‘they’ are covering up the real circumstances of Matthews’s death. Whoever ‘they’ are.”

I’m not an avid football fan, but with “star podcaster” Alice Levine (My Dad Wrote a PornoBritish Scandal) presenting, I felt “duty-bound” to sample Sport’s Strangest Crimes: The Trillion Dollar Conman, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. “Within hours I had ‘binge-listened’ to all six episodes, revelling in the chutzpah of its venal, villainous protagonist, but also the brio” of Levine’s “exhilarating, often funny” commentary.

This is the “jaw-dropping” true tale of how the lowly Notts County was taken over, in 2009, by Russell King, a “Bond-villain” fraudster supposedly backed by Bahraini finance. The “bizarre, compelling” story pings between Nottingham and Jersey, and on to Bahrain, Dubai and even North Korea, where the club’s new megabucks manager Sven-Göran Eriksson is dispatched to secure a mining deal. “Started very good and ended very bad,” notes the amiably laconic Swede.

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