International press safety groups are looking into a spate of recent attacks on members of the media in Ukraine. The incidents have drawn attention to the ongoing risks posed to journalists covering the war on the ground and raised questions about potential targeting of the press. “Several media crews have already come under fire and four reporters have sustained gunshot injuries in Ukraine” since Vladimir Putin invaded fewer than two weeks ago, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported Tuesday. “We therefore call on all parties to the conflict to immediately commit to protecting journalists in the field in accordance with international law,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Swiss photojournalist Guillaume Briquet was reportedly fired upon and robbed by members of a Russian special commando on Sunday while driving towards the southern city of Mykolaiv. “They clearly shot to kill,” Briquet, whose car and bulletproof vest were visibly marked “press,” told RSF. “I’ve been fired on before in other war zones, but I’ve never seen this. Journalists traveling around the country with no war experience are in mortal danger.”
Also on Sunday, reporter Adnan Can and cameraman Habip Demirci of the London-based TV network Al Araby reportedly came under fire from Russian forces in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv. Russian forces fired in the direction of their car despite the “press” signs and white flag that the team said were attached to the vehicle. The attack occurred days after a Sky News crew came under a barrage of bullets, fire that continued even after the team identified themselves as journalists. Chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay was shot in the lower back and camera operator Richie Mockler sustained two shots to his body armor as a result of the harrowing attack, which Mockler managed to capture on video as it unfolded. The full story has yet to emerge, but Sky News said they were “told by the Ukrainians that we [had been] ambushed by a saboteur Russian reconnaissance squad.”
The Sky News footage “provides a valuable” albeit “horrifying” example “of just how quickly things can turn and just how dangerous it is to be reporting in a conflict zone such as this one,” Lucy Westcott, director of the Emergencies Department at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told Vanity Fair on Tuesday. Luckily, she noted, they were all equipped with personal protective equipment. CPJ has received a steady stream of requests about “what to wear and where to procure it” since the crisis began, Westcott noted, “and that’s an ongoing conversation.” RSF last week announced a soon-to-open press freedom center in Lviv that will serve as “a reception and distribution hub for protective equipment for journalists, particularly bulletproof vests and helmets, which are currently in short supply.”
It’s too early, according to CPJ, one of the world’s leading press watchdog organizations, to say whether the attacks that members of the media have faced in Ukraine are targeted or indiscriminate. “We’re on day 12 of this conflict,” Westcott said, declining to speak to specific incidents, such as Briquet’s account, that CPJ is still looking into. Nonetheless, the organization has already confirmed the death of one journalist since the conflict began—Yevhenii Sakun, a Ukrainian cameraman killed in the March 1 shelling of a TV tower in Kyiv. That incident wasn’t “necessarily the targeting of a journalist” but “did seem to be targeting communications infrastructure,” Westcott said.
RSF also logged an incident on March 3, in which two Czech journalists and two Ukrainian journalists escaped Russian fire while traveling in a car outside Kyiv, and one on February 26, in which two Danish reporters working for the Daily Beast sustained serious gunshot injuries near the northeastern town of Okhtyrka.