by Miceál O’Hurley
KHARKIV — News reached me last week through the father of colleague from Odesa, a journalist I’ve known for almost a decade, who died while serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Lieutenant Maksym Medynsky and I met in 2013 in Kyiv when he was reporting on the growing tension between the Ukrainian people who decidedly wanted to pursue a path towards their historic inclusion in Europe by joining the European Union and the pro-Russian regime of President Viktor Yanukovich who was signalling his opposition. The clash of wills resulted in the Maidan Revolution in February 2014.
In his mid-20s when we met, Maksym had already shown great alacrity for prose. He wrote news in a factual manner but with a sense of fluid symetry of words. He had a gift for journalism. I wasn’t suprised that in 2014 Maks emailed me to say he felt compelled to join the Armed Forces to help defend Ukraine. After all, his father had been a military journalist before him and his mother had served in the military as well. Maks was a patriot.
Like many of his generation, they understood Russia’s occupation of Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk posed an existential threat to their future and their freedom. I still have the emails Maks sent me from his early days at war in 2014. They are filled with what I came to call a ‘pragmatic optimism.’
Along with his comrades, both male and female, young and old, Maks took part in the spirited defense of his country. He distinguished himself during the brutal battles surrounding Donetsk Airport. Young yet wise, irrascible but tempered, Maks was determined to play his part. He willingly put aside the pen and picked-up a rifle. So deep was journalism in Maks’ soul he sometimes continued to report from the front from his perspective as a soldier.
After serving admirably in Donbas, Maks returned home where he again took up journalism. Over time he also did some work with the Ministry of the Infrastructure.
By all accounts Maks did his duty bravely. I know this personally – I visited him and his unit near Kharkiv earlier in April. He was in great spirits. The lad I met 8-years ago in Maidan Square though now seemed decidedly aged. Wars do that. I too had aged beyond my years when I went to war as a youth. Our shared experiences led us to spend the few hours we had together reminiscing about the past. We talked of our experiences in war, how adversity makes for fast-friends, our hobby as parachutists and the importance of our profession as journalists. We promised, as all people do in combat, to meet-up when the war was over. It wasn’t meant to be. On 29 April Maks was killed near Kharkiv during intense shelling by Russian forces. He died surrounded by the women and men with whom he served in the defense of his nation.
Maks waxed sanguinely about the war, "I was never afraid to lose my life, I was just afraid to lose it for nothing. Therefore, there was no question for me: to go to war or not. There is a war in my country, so I have to defend it." Defend it he did - unto death.
Maksym’s sacrifice was not unique. However, many continued to make their contribution to Ukraine’s democratic future as a free nation by continuing to practice their chosen profession. This has included international journalists including at least one from Ireland who died on duty in Ukraine. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy some 20-journalists have been killed and 13-injured since February. At lease 3-journalists have gone missing, and 8-journalists, including 4-women, have been kidnapped by Russian forces. To date, as least 148 crimes against journalists and media in Ukraine have been documented according to the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), an independent NGO backing the interests of civil society of Ukraine and, in particular, professional journalists.
Evidence of Russia’s targetting of journalists is widespread and continuing. It cannot be explained-away as a rougue unit. Attempts to silence journalists has not been the only casualty Ukraine’s media has suffered. At least 10-television towers were targeted by Russian forces since February. The attacks resulted in the complete or temporary disruption of TV and radio broadcasting across 8-regions of Ukraine. More than 100-media outlets have been forced to cease operations due to the war or war-related threats. Journalists, bloggers, vloggers and media outlets have come under intense pressure from pro-Russian forces and individuals using the threat of harm or death. The disproportionate number of journalists that have died, been wounded, disappeared or have been kidnapped to date gives credence to the strength of such threats.
The circumstances of one Ukrainian journalist is part and parcel of the systematic targetting and coersion of journalists operating in Ukraine. On 20 March 2022, Galyna Danylchenko, a Russian-collaborator who headed the Russian occupation authority in Melitopol, contacted Svitlana Zalizetska, Editor of Golvna Gazeta Melitopola and the RIA-Melitopol news website. In exchange for “cooperation with Russia” and a “career in Moscow,” Zalizetska was promised her family would be protected. She rejected the idea of collaborating with Russian occupation forces and immediately fled.
On 23 March 2022, Russian forces conducted a raid on her home, kidnapping her 75-year old father. He has since been held at an undisclosed location. Russia has offered to exchange him for Zalizetska if she voluntarily surrenders herself to Russian authorities.
Journalism is a high-risk occupation in war, especially so as Ukraine battles the Kremlin’s troops and perpetrators of misinformation and disinformation. Russia and Russian forces pose a critical threat to freedom of speech and expression in Ukraine. Based on their history in Chechnya, Moldova, Georgia, Syria, the Central African Republic and now Ukraine, there is no reason to believe the Eastern boundary of the European Union and NATO would create a barrier to Russia continuing their assault on journalism, truth and free speech if given the opportunity.
I visited another journalism colleague and acquaintance, Vira Hyruch, when reporting from Kyiv earlier in the war. Vira was soon after killed by Russian forces. Vira joined Radio Liberty (Radio Free Europe) in 2018 following years as a reliable journalist and producer in Kyiv television news.
We met to compare notes at the Blue Cup Cafe on Pushkinska Street in early-April. Days later I learned Vira was killed by a missile attack on the civilian housing complex in which she lived in Kyiv. Her body was identified after having been recovered from the rubble of the building along with 10 other civilians.
Vira Hyrych’s death came upon the ocassion of the visit of UN Secretary General Guitierez to Kyiv. Russia retaliated for his pro-Ukrainian remarks with renewed attacks on the city’s civilian housing areas while he was still in Kyiv. Russia continues to contend they do not miss their targets. However, the widespread destruction of civilian housing stands in contrast to the claim they only target military-related facilities and objectives. Russia claims the missiles launched on Kyiv the day Vira was killed were “precision” guided. Evidence and her death tell a different truth.
Then there is Pierre Zakrzewski. ‘Zak‘ as he was was widely known by our colleagues in combat zones as a talented and affable Irishman of Polish-French descent. He grew-up in Dublin. His parents, a French mother and Polish father were themselves children of World War II and knew the dangers of war.
Our association as journalists goes back almost 2-decades when Zak and I first crossed-paths. If there was a ‘hot spot‘ in the world I was sure to find Zak there – camera in hand – willing to chase the stories that few others would dare cover. Zak’s work with FOX News brought him to numerous combat zones including Kabul, Afghanistan where we last met. He died while covering a story along with Ukrainian journalist and producer Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova. Their fellow FOX colleague Benjamin Hall was severely injured when their vehicle came under Russian artillery attack near Horenka in the Kyiv oblast on the ides of March.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of journalists and media workers that have been killed or wounded along with a killing of a journalist since February 2022. Details are often difficult to independently verify as they are all combat-related deaths. Moreover, the disclosure of the death of journalists often are delayed for various reasons including protecting sources or ongoing journalism activities.
Shakirov Dilerbek Shukurovych – 26 February 2022 (Killed)
Shukurovych, a journalist for the information weekly Navkolo Tebe (Around You), was killed only 2-days after Russia expanded its 8-year long war on Ukraine . He was shot dead from a car with an automatic weapon near the village of Zelenivka, a suburb of the southern city of Kherson. Shukurovych was a native of the Kherson region.
Yevhenii Sakun – 1 March 2022 (Killed)
A Ukrainian cameraman for KYIV LIVE TV, Sakun was killed during a Russian rocket attack on the TV tower in Kyiv’s Babyn Yar area of the Shevchenskivsky district. Sakun was on duty in the building when the TV tower building was hit. His remains were identified solely by his press card which he was wearing. 4-other people were killed in the Russian attack on the TV tower and 5-more people were injured. He was 49-years old.
Viktor Dudar – 4 March 2022 (Killed)
Dudar, the defense correspondent for the Lviv-based newspaper Expres was fatally wounded by Russian forces while fighting in Mykolaiv. Dudar was a volunteer in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He was a paratrooper. He served in Donbas between 2014-2015 before returning to journalism. He chose to return to active duty after the 24 February 2002 escalation of Russia’s 8-year long war on Ukraine. Dudar was 52-years old.
Viktor Dedov – 11 March 2022 (Killed)
Sigma cameraman Dedov was killed on when his apartment building in Mariupol was repeatedly shelled. His wife announced his death on 20 March by Facebook. His wife and other family members were also injured in the attack. Subsequent shelling of the building made recovery of his body impossible.
Okeksiy Chernyshov – 13 March 2022 (MIA – Pressumed Killed)
A serviceman and former media camerman, Chernyshov was accompanying documentary filmmaker Maksim Levin when the two went missing near the front lines in Muta-Mezhyhirska. Levin’s body was later recovered on 2 April 2022. Chernyshov remains unaccounted for at this time and he is presumed dead.
Brent Renaud – 13 March 2022 (Killed)
TIME Studios journalist and former New York Times contributor Brent Renaud was killed at a Russian checkpoint in Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv. Renaud was shot dead while wearing an easily identifiable ‘Press’ jacket at Russian checkpoint. Two of his colleagues were also wounded in the Russian attack, one being Colombian-American reporter Juan Arredondo. Renaud and his colleagues were covering a story on fleeing Ukrainian civilians at the time he was killed by Russian forces. Renaud was 50-years old.
Juan Arredondo – 13 March 2022 (Wounded)
Colombian-American photo-journalist Juan Arredondo was wounded in the same incident in which Russian forces killed journalist Brent Renaud and wounded another of their colleagues. The New York Times and National Geographic. Arredondo’s photographs have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, ESPN, Vanity Fair, LeMonde Magazine, Der Spiegel, amongst others. A graduate and adjunct faculty member of the Columbia University School of Journalism, Arredondo has undergone several surgeries due to his injuries sustained in Irpin and is in stable condition. He is 45-years old.
Oleksandra Kuvshinova – 14 March 2022 (Killed)
Kuvshinova was a Ukrainian producer working with FOX News when she, Irish cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and British correspondent Benjamin Hall were travelling in a car marked ‘Press’ that was attacked by Russian forces in the village of Horenka in the northwestern suburbs of Kyiv. Their car was struck by gunfire from Russian troops despite the exaggerated media markings killing Kuvshinova and Zakrzewski immediately and severely wounding Hall. Kuvshinova was 24-years old.
Pierre Zakrzewski – 14 March 2022 (Killed)
Zakrzewski, ‘Zak’ by those of us who knew and worked with him in other conflicts, was a veteran FOX News cameraman who had covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria prior to travelling to cover the war in Ukraine. He was killed along with his producer, Oleksandra Kuvshinova on 14 March 2022 when their vehicle was attacked by Russian forces with small arms fire in the Kyiv oblast. British correspondent Benjamin Hall was wounded in the same attack. Zakrzewski was 55-years old.
Oleg Yakunin – 18 March 2022 (Killed)
Yakunin was the founder and Editor-in-Chief of several popular Ukrainian websites. He is most famously associated with the Zaporizhzhya-based website misto.zp.ua and Afisha.zp. His wife announced his death on Facebook which was then confirmed by the Ukrainian Institute of Mass Information. He died while fighting Russian forces near Zaporizhzhia in Southeast Ukraine.
Oksana Baulina – 23 March 2022 (Killed)
Russian-born journalist Oksana Baulina of Latvian investigative media outlet ‘The Insider ‘ was killed in Russian shelling of Kyiv. Baulina was killed during the Russian shelling of the Kyiv neighbourhood of Podil. 2-others accompanying Baulina were wounded in the shelling and 1-civilian was killed in the attack. Baulina fled Russia after coming under investigation and being labeled an “extremist” for her work with dissident leader Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation.
Mantas Kvedaracičius – 2 April 2022 (Killed)
Lithuanian-born anthropologist and documentarian, Kvedaracičius was killed after he was abducted by Russian forces while filming a documentary on the siege of Mariupol. Kvedaracičius’ body was thrown out onto the street from a moving vehicle after he was murdered. According to his wife, Hanna Bilobrova, 2- days after his death, a Russian soldier had led her to his body. Bilobrova intends to complete his documentary. He was 45-years old at the time he was summarily executed by Russian forces.
Maksim Levin – 2 April 2022 (Killed)
Photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Maksim Levin was found on the front lines in Huta-Mezhyhirska during the fight to defend Kyiv. He was a veteran reporter for the LB.ua media outlet. He went missing on 13 March while documenting “Russian war crimes.” According to investigators, Levin was executed by Russian troops with “two shots from firearms.” He leaves behind a wife and four children. Levin was 40-years old.
Yevhenii Bal – 2 April 2022 (Killed)
Journalist and fiction writer Bal was forcibly taken from his Mariupol Raion home Melekine on 18 March 2022. Russian forces found a photograph of Bal with Ukrainian marines. Following extensive torture Bal was released. However, he died from the brutal injuries inflicted by his Russian torturers and died on 2 April 2022. He was 78-years old.
Zoreslav Zamoysky – 12 April 2022 (Killed)
Zamoysky, a freelance journalist and activist, was been found dead in the street in Bucha. There is evidence that he was summarily executed. A freelancer, Zamoysky was often associated with the website Hromada Priirpinnya. His last online was on 4 March 2022. He was a native of Dnipro.
Oleksander Machow – 12 April 2022 (Killed)
Ukraine 24 and DomTV television stations lost veteran journalist Machow when he was killed during heavy fighting near the Eastern Ukrainian city of Izium. He had served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine after Russia attacked his native Luhansk in 2014. He was 36-years old.
Roman Nezhyborets – 13 April 2022 (Killed)
A Video Technician, Nezhyborets was found dead in Yahidne on 13 April. The date of his death likely occurred sometime between 5-9 March. Confined by Russian soldiers to underground shelters, Nezhyborets and local residents had their mobile phone confiscated. Nezhyborets was using a concealed mobile phone to speak with his mother on 5 March when he was last known to be alive. In his last conversation he asked his mother, hoping to protect her and preserve his work, Nezhyborets asked her to hide evidence of war crimes he had documented. During his last call with his mother he asked her to warn his colleagues and friends to delete him from group chats to safeguard their identity and locations. His mother reports that she overheard Russian troops discover her son on the phone and that was her last conversation with him. His body was recovered from the Northern Ukrainian village only after Russian troops withdrew. He was working with Dytynets at the time of his murder.
Vira Hyrych – 29 April 2022 (Killed)
Hyrych, a former spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Kyiv, was a veteran journalist and producer well known in the Ukrainian media community. She joined Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in 2018. Hyrych was killed while working from home in her hi-rise apartment building in a residential neighbourhood of Kyiv, not far from a military manufacturing operation. On 28 April 2022 her building came under intense missile attacks launched by Russian forces, reportedly firing from Belarus. He body was found under the wreckage on the morning of 29 April. 10 others civilians were killed in the attack. She was 55-years old.
Maksym Mednysky – 6 May 2022 (Killed)
Mednysky, a native of Bolhrod in the Odessa region was a veteran reporter. A graduate of the esteemed Tara Savchenko University, Mednysky left his chosen profession in 2014 to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Having completed his duty he returned to journalism only to re-enlist again in in February 2022. He served as a Communications Officers and died during intense shelling near the city of Kharkiv where he and his unit were deployed to defend the city and safeguard civilians. Mednysky was 33-years old.