A well-known Ukrainian photojournalist was “executed in cold blood” by Russian forces when he tried to retrieve footage he’d shot shortly after the Feb. 24 invasion, an investigation has found.
Maks Levin, a photojournalist who freelanced for Reuters, the BBC, Associated Press and several Ukrainian news agencies, vanished in the early days of the war, just a day after his 2-year-old son’s birthday in mid-March. After frantic search efforts by family and friends, his body was found outside Kyiv in early April, along with that of Ukrainian serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov, a friend with whom Levin had been traveling.
Now, Reporters Without Borders has revealed that its investigators found “overwhelming” evidence of a straight-up execution at the scene in Moshchun, outside Kyiv. An investigation by the group published Wednesday said evidence suggested that Levin, who was wearing civilian clothing and a bulletproof vest labeled “PRESS” at the time of his death, was likely either ambushed by Russian forces and executed at point-blank range, or interrogated first by Russian troops who set Chernyshev on fire before executing both men “by shots to the head.”
“Analysis of the photos of the crime scene, the observations made on the spot and the material evidence recovered clearly point to an execution that may have been preceded by interrogation or even acts of torture. In the context of a war heavily marked by propaganda and Kremlin censorship, Maks Levin and his friend paid with their lives for their fight for reliable information. We owe them the truth. And we will fight to identify and find those who executed them,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders.
Levin’s burned out Ford Maverick was found at the scene with at least 14 bullet marks. His body, found about 14 meters away, was found “lying on its back” with “three bullet impacts… one in the chest and two in the head,” the report notes.
Investigators also determined that three Russian trenches had been dug at the last crossroads Levin had passed through in his car.
Tragically, the investigation found that Levin had been killed as he tried to recover his drone, which contained images of Russia’s takeover. Vladimir Putin’s troops had moved in to seize control of the area in the three days since Levin lost his drone there.
Investigators with Reporters Without Borders passed on all evidence obtained during their May 24-June 3 investigation to Ukrainian prosecutors investigating Russian war crimes. The evidence is said to include several items that may contain traces of DNA of the Russian forces in the area, including food packaging and plastic cutlery.
The findings come a day after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that “top Nazi hunter” Eli Rosenbaum will lead a Justice Department effort to help Ukrainian authorities track down perpetrators of war crimes in the “unprovoked conflict” there.
“There is no hiding place for war criminals. The U.S. Justice Department will pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine,” Garland said of the move.