Paris, December 21, 2022 – Russian and Ukrainian authorities should swiftly investigate the attack on Italian journalists Claudio Locatelli and Niccolò Celesti and ensure that members of the press are not targeted while reporting on the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Monday, December 19, a car transporting Locatelli, an independent reporter, Celesti, an independent photographer, and Daniele, their Ukrainian-Italian translator, who asked CPJ to withhold his last name due to safety concerns, came under fire in Antonivka, a village in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, according to multiple news reports, social media posts by the journalists, and Celesti, who spoke to CPJ by phone. The attack shattered the car windows and glass shards embedded in Locatelli’s ear and neck, but he did not suffer serious injuries.
The car was clearly marked “Press” on the outside, and Celesti told CPJ that the shooting originated from the other side of the Dnipro River, where the Russian army regrouped after withdrawing from Kherson in November. This led Celesti to believe they were “99% shot at intentionally,” adding that “it was too near. The time was perfect.”
“No one else was there,” Locatelli wrote on Facebook. “Firing at the press has no excuse.”
“That a car clearly marked ‘press’ could have been deliberately targeted is simply unacceptable. Journalists are civilians under international humanitarian law and should be protected as such,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian and Ukrainian authorities should promptly investigate the attack that resulted in the injury of journalist Claudio Locatelli, which could have easily had a much more dramatic conclusion.”
On December 18, the day before the attack, Celesti and Locatelli arrived in Antonivka to report, and as they drove along a “very exposed part” of the Dnipro River, they heard a missile land near them, Celesti told CPJ. Volunteers told the journalists that it came from the other side of the river. “We didn’t have proof that it was for us. But it was very near and immediate,” Celesti said.
On December 19, the journalists were on their way to a local cemetery to collect testimonies from residents when their car was hit, according to those sources. “We don’t know if it was a missile, an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], or a mortar,” Celesti told CPJ. “We have no idea yet.” The journalists drove away and found a safe place to regroup and treat Locatelli.
“I lost blood, but the injury is minor,” Locatelli wrote on social media. “Had I opened the door, I would be without a leg or worse.”
Celesti told CPJ that he and Daniele were not injured. In a Facebook post, Locatelli wrote on December 20 that he was well despite “some discomfort in [his] balance and hearing.”
“We were very, very lucky. We’ve never seen such holes [in the car],” Celesti told CPJ. “The fragmentation [came] into the car but did not go through the car. It stopped after the first aluminum part.”
Locatelli and Celesti have been reporting for various media outlets, including privately owned commercial television station La7.
“We both, me and Claudio, have been covering this war since the beginning,” Celesti told CPJ. “This is my third time in Ukraine, and it’s the second time for Claudio. We were under bombing in Irpin during the battle of Kyiv. But this time, in our experience, we had a real concern about being targeted. This time it was very clear.”
CPJ emailed the Russian and Ukrainian defense ministries but did not receive a reply.