Ukrainian photojournalist Maks Levin and a soldier accompanying him were "executed in cold blood" by the Russian military in the first weeks of their invasion of Ukraine, according to an investigation by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published on Wednesday.
Levin and serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov were found dead on April 1 in woods north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. An RSF investigation found that they were killed as they were searching Russian-occupied woodlands for a missing image-taking drone.
Levin, 41, had worked for many Ukrainian and international organisations such as Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, and Radio Liberty. Just last month, one of his photographs was on the cover of an issue of German magazine Der Spiegel.
Ukrainian photojournalist Maks Levin was found dead near Kyiv on April 1, killed by Russian forces.— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) April 2, 2022
One of his pictures was on the cover of @derspiegel only 4 weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/7qEP8czbQO
The RSF said it went back to the spot where the bodies were found. It said it counted 14 bullet holes in the burned hulk of their car still at the scene.
It added that abandoned Russian positions, one of them still booby-trapped, were found close by. The RSF also found remains of food rations, cigarette packets, and other litter seemingly left by Russian soldiers.
Some of Levin and Chernyshov's belongings, including the soldier's ID papers and parts of his bulletproof vest and the photographer's helmet, were also recovered, according to RSF.
A Ukrainian team with metal detectors also uncovered a bullet buried in the soil where Levin's body had lain, it said. The RSF said that finding suggests "he was probably killed with one, perhaps two bullets fired at close range when he was already on the ground".
It added that a jerrycan for gasoline was also found close to where Chernyshov's burned body had been recovered.
The RSF said its findings "show that the two men were doubtless coldly executed".
Levin and Chernyshov went untracable on March 13. A GPS tracker in their vehicle gave their last position in woods north of Kyiv, as per the RSF.
It said Levin had lost his drone in the area on March 10 and hadn't been able to recover it because he'd come under Russian fire. Drones have become a common tool for photojournalists to get aerial photos and video.
The RSF said Levin had on occasion shared information gleaned from his drone, including about Russian positions, with Ukrainian forces.
It said, "But the use of his drone was first and foremost a journalistic endeavour, confirmed by his entourage and shown by the images sold to the media since the start of the Russian invasion."
The RSF said it turned over evidence it collected and dozens of photos to Ukrainian investigators. It added that it was unable to confirm whether the men's bodies have been autopsied — a step it called essential for the investigation into their deaths.
It also appealed for Ukrainian defense and intelligence agencies to provide investigators with whatever information they have about Russian units that had occupied the area during Moscow's failed assault on Kyiv in the initial stages of the four-month war.
Besides Levin, at least eight more journalists have been killed in Ukraine while covering the Russia's invasion of the country. Russia has also carried out targeted attacks on journalists in Ukraine.
The journalists killed so far are:
- Russian journalist Oksana Baulina
- Ukrainian Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova
- Irish photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewski
- American Brent Renaud
- Ukrainian journalist Yevhenii Sakun
- Ukrainian journalist Shakirov Dilerbek Shukurovych
- Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravicius
- French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff
More journalists have been wounded, including Fox's Benjamin Hall who survived the attack in which Sasha and Pierre were killed. Colombian-American journalist Juan Arredondo was injured in the attack in which Brent was kiled.
Fox's Hall lost a leg, a foot in another leg, and one of his eyes in the attack.
In March, Russian fighters had ambushed and attacked a team of Sky News journalists in Ukraine. Multiple Sky News staffers sustained bullet injuries in the attack but they were saved by their body armours.
(With AP inputs)