Paris, January 31, 2023 – Russian and Ukrainian authorities should swiftly investigate the recent shelling of a team of journalists with Czech public broadcaster ČT24, and ensure that members of the press are not targeted while covering the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On January 26, a three-member ČT24 team was covering the war near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut when the journalists noticed a drone flying above them, reporter Andreas Papadopulos told CPJ in a phone interview. Minutes later, artillery shells exploded nearby and the team fled the scene, according to Papadopulos and multiple media reports.
No one was injured in the attack, according to those sources. The team, composed of Papadopulos, ČT24 camera operator Jan Bradáč, and Anastasia Zhuk, a Ukrainian journalist accompanying them, as well as an unarmed Ukrainian military press officer working as an escort, all wore vests and helmets marked as “Press,” and their car was marked as well, Papadopulos said.
Papadopulos added that there were no military sites nearby and “no trees under which Ukrainian artillery could have been hidden,” saying the reporting team was “the only target” in the area.
“Targeting members of the press covering the war in Ukraine is prohibited by international humanitarian law, and the apparently deliberate shelling of a team from the Czech broadcaster ČT24 must be thoroughly investigated,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian and Ukrainian authorities should ensure that all members of the press can work safely, and should hold military officers to account for attacks on journalists.”
The team stopped reporting and headed for their car after seeing the drone overhead, Papadopulos told CPJ.
“The first shot was like twenty meters from us, from the car,” he said. “We practically hopped in the car and started the engine. I drove like fifty meters and suddenly one shell dropped exactly at the place where our car was.”
A third shell exploded while the team fled the area, Papadopulos told CPJ.
“It was surprising for me that we even escaped,” Papadopulos said, adding that the first two shells “dropped exactly at the place where we were.”
Papadopulos said the shelling came from the direction of Klishchiivka, which the Russian army recently captured. He said he believed there was “no point” for the Ukrainians to shell the road, which is the main pathway for supplies to Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut.
Zhuk was quoted by the Ukrainian press freedom group Institute of Mass Information saying that she thought the shelling may have been an attempt to “scare” the journalists, but added that they could have been hit by debris.
CPJ emailed the Russian and Ukrainian Defense Ministries but did not receive any replies.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the year in the dateline at the start of the report.