International journalist and his fixer killed in Ukraine

New York, May 27, 2014–On Saturday, Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter and fixer, Andrei Mironov, were killed in mortar fire outside the eastern city of Sloviansk, according to regional and international press reports. A French photojournalist, William Roguelon, was also wounded in the attack, reports said. 

Rochelli, Mironov, and Roguelon were covering clashes in Sloviansk between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russia separatists at the time of the attack, according to news reports. Roguelon, who works for the French news agency Wostok Press, told journalists they were traveling by car in the village of Andreyevka, outside Sloviansk, when their car was attacked first by gunfire and then mortar shelling. Roguelon fled from the vehicle, while Rocchelli and Mironov took shelter in a nearby ditch, where they were killed by shrapnel, reports said.

Pro-Russian separatists blamed the Ukrainian army for the attack, but officials in Kiev said the mortar fire originated from the separatists’ side, according to the Russian service of the BBC.

Rocchelli, 30, was the founder of Cesura photo agency and contributed to various international publications including Newsweek magazine and Le Monde newspaper, reports said. Mironov, 60, was a well-known Russian human rights activist and board member of the prominent human rights organization Memorial. According to the Russian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, both journalists had documented human rights issues in conflict zones.

“The Ukrainian government should ensure that the killing of Andrea Rocchelli and Andrei Mironov is investigated without delay and that those responsible are punished to the full extent of the law,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We urge all parties in the ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine to respect the role of the media and allow journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.”

Violent clashes between the Ukrainian army and armed pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine have been ongoing since early April when the separatists declared their regions independent from Ukraine. Today’s fighting between the two sides left at least 40 dead and dozens wounded, CNN reported

In another incident on Sunday, armed separatists in the eastern city of Luhansk detained Vyacheslav Bondarenko, a journalist for the local news website Obzor, and Maksim Osovskoy, who had posted online videos of the elections that day, the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (IMI) reported. Both were detained after covering the Sunday presidential elections held in Ukraine. Today, IMI said that separatists had freed Osovskoy.

“We call on Vyacheslav Bondarenko’s captors to release him immediately,” Ognianova said.

In recent months, the climate of press freedom in Ukraine has deteriorated, with violent attacks against local and international reporters, confiscation of their reporting equipment, and obstruction of television transmissions from both sides, according to CPJ research and IMI reports. Abduction by armed separatists remains a risk for both local and foreign journalists.