New York, September 3, 2014–Russian authorities and news outlets reported today that Andrei Stenin, the 33-year-old Russian photojournalist for the state-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya, who went missing in Ukraine in early August, was killed in the country’s Donetsk region.
“We condemn the killing of Andrei Stenin, which calls attention once again to the dangers of covering the conflict in Ukraine from any side,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We urge Ukrainian authorities to do their utmost to conduct an effective probe into the circumstances of his death, and call on pro-Russia separatists to allow investigators access to the territory where Stenin was reportedly found.”
Stenin, who was in eastern Ukraine to cover the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists, was last heard from on August 5, Rossiya Segodnya (previously RIA Novosti) reported.
In a statement released today, Russia’s Investigative Committee said DNA tests had confirmed Stenin’s identity. According to the statement, Stenin was killed on August 6 during a Ukrainian army attack on a column of cars carrying refugees from the east and guarded by a group of pro-Russia separatists. Investigators for the committee said separatists handed the photojournalist’s remains to Russian authorities on August 27.
On August 22, pro-Kremlin newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published an article by its reporters Dmitry Steshin and Aleksandr Kots, who had gone in search of Stenin. The article, later removed from the website but available in Google cache, said Steshin and Kots had found a burned car, similar to the one that Stenin was last seen in, with three charred bodies inside and professional photo equipment in the trunk. They reported that the car was found in a field near the town of Snizhne. The other two victims have not been identified.
The Investigative Committee and Rossiya Segodnya accused Ukrainian paratroopers with the 79th airborne brigade of killing Stenin during the alleged attack in August. Aleksandr Danilyuk, from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, denied the accusations, and told the BBC’s Russian service he had seen no evidence confirming Stenin was killed by Ukrainian soldiers.
After Stenin’s disappearance, Anton Gerashchenko, an official with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry suggested in an interview with the Latvian radio station Baltkom that the photojournalist might have been detained in the conflict area by Ukraine’s security services. Gerashchenko later retracted his statement, telling Rossiya Segodnya that his words had been taken out of context. In a statement today, reported by Rossiya Segodnya, Gerashchenko said Ukrainian authorities did not have access to the separatist-controlled region where Stenin is believed to have died, and so were unable to conduct an investigation. “We cannot conduct a probe without access to the body,” Gerashchenko said.
Stenin is the seventh journalist or media worker killed in Ukraine since the crisis unfolded in the country in early 2014, CPJ research shows. Press freedom conditions in Ukraine, especially in the conflict zone in the eastern region, steadily deteriorated this year, with reports of journalists being detained, attacked, abducted, or killed.