In this occasional series, The Washington Post brings you up to speed on some of the biggest stories of the week. First up: A daring dash at one of the world’s most closely patrolled borders.

The biggest story: A rare defection from North Korea

A North Korean soldier was fighting for his life this week in a South Korean hospital after a brazen dash for freedom across the Demilitarized Zone. His escape across one of the world’s most closely patrolled borders — the first such military defection in a decade — has riveted the region. Among its dramatic details: the soldier was shot five times by his countrymen as he ran south on Monday, according to Anna Fifield.

The Korean demilitarized zone, explained

The soldier's escape occurred in one of the few spots where such an attempt is possible: the Joint Security Area in the truce village of Panmunjom, the only part of the heavily fortified DMZ where North Koreans and South Koreans face each other. You can view a graphic of the border here.

Five other important stories

1. Germany's empty renewable-energy promsie

In the former West German capital of Bonn, the country is hosting a U.N. climate conference this month considered critical to global efforts to fulfill pledges made two years ago in Paris. But Germany is also on course to badly miss its emission-reduction targets for 2020. Leading politicians — Chancellor Angela Merkel included — have staunchly resisted taking steps that activists say could help the country get back on track, including quickly shutting down the dirtiest coal-fired plants and setting a firm deadline for phasing out coal altogether.

Read the full story by Griff Witte and Luisa Beck, or listen to our podcast on the same topic:

The Post's Griff Witte and Luisa Beck traveled to western Germany where, despite the country's green rhetoric, coal mines are rapidly expanding. (Griff Witte, Luisa Beck/The Washington Post)

2. A radioactive cloud that covered Europe might be from Russia. Don’t worry about it, though.

A cloud of radioactive Ruthenium-106 isotopes wafted over Europe in the last week of September, according to a new report by the French government. The Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety says the continent was perfectly safe from the cloud, though no one knows if it was caused by a nuclear accident or rogue satellite crash or who-knows-what else. By mid-October, the French agency wrote, the ruthenium was gone altogether.

3. Europe makes the perhaps biggest step forward in E.U. defense policy

The words "radioactivity" and "Russia" in the same sentence may set off alarm bells in many European Union capitals. Sweden recently announced plans to build new nuclear shelters largely over fears of a Russian invasion or attack. Sweden and other nations also worry that the United States may not support them in such a scenario, which is one of the reasons why European member states approved a major defense pact this week, writes Michael Birnbaum from Brussels.

Closer collaboration and an exchange of experiences within Europe has also long been a demand of LGBT military associations. But while Germany promoted its first transgender commander last month, President Trump continued to attempt a ban on transgender service members in the U.S. military. At least 18 countries allow transgender service members to serve openly, including 10 NATO members. Read the full story or watch the video:

Germany's first transgender military commander tells The Post what she thinks of President Trump’s attempt to reverse the U.S. military’s transgender policy. (Rick Noack, Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)

4. Canada fears a huge rush of asylum seekers if their U.S. protected status is lifted

As the Trump administration signals that it may soon remove the Temporary Protected Status designation of more than 300,000 Central Americans and Haitians, threatening them with deportation, Canadian officials are bracing for a new wave of asylum seekers flooding over the border, writes Alan Freeman in Ottawa.

Others will likely never make it either to Canada or the United States.

5. They were rescued from war. Now, South Sudan's child soldiers are going back.

In 2015, during a lull in South Sudan’s civil war, 1,775 boys promised the United Nations that their lives as combatants had ended and that they would now go back to school. They handed over their baggy military fatigues in choreographed ceremonies that amounted to one of the largest releases of child soldiers in recent history. Two years later, the boys are returning to the battlefield. Development programs to help them have failed. The school barely functions, writes Kevin Sieff from Pibor, South Sudan.

Here's the story of one of the boys:

Meet Babacho Mama, former child soldier thinking of returning to the fight (The Washington Post)

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