A drone destroyed the car being used by a television crew for Sweden's TV4 near the frontline in Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhia region on September 19, 2023. Producer Oleksandr Pavlov was injured. (Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Pavlov)

Journalist Oleksandr Pavlov injured in drone attack in Ukraine

New York, September 28, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday condemned a drone attack on journalists working in Ukraine and called on authorities to ensure that members of the press are not targeted while covering the war.

On Tuesday, September 19, Oleksandr Pavlov, a Ukrainian producer with the privately owned Swedish TV channel TV4, was wounded when a drone struck his team’s car in Stepnohirsk, near the frontline in the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, according to Pavlov, who spoke to CPJ, TV4, and media reports.

The two other members of the crew, reporter Johan Fredriksson and photojournalist Daniel Zdolsek, were not harmed but a Ukrainian police officer escorting them was injured and all their filming equipment in the vehicle was destroyed, according to those sources.

All three journalists had followed security procedures as directed by the police and their media outlet and were wearing bulletproof vests and helmets marked “Press,” according to Pavlov and those reports.

“Journalists reporting in Ukraine should be able to do their job without fear of being targeted,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian and Ukrainian authorities should investigate the drone attack that injured Oleksandr Pavlov and ensure that members of the press covering the war are protected under international humanitarian law.”

The journalists said they were deliberately targeted after stepping out of their vehicle to talk to local people.

“It was a direct drone attack on us,” Fredriksson told privately owned Ukrainian broadcaster Channel 24.

“There was a camera on a tripod. There was no way the cameraman of that vile drone couldn’t have realized it was a camera crew,” Pavlov told the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) in an interview. “The drone operator apparently saw that we ran away and redirected the drone to the car.”

Pavlov told NUJU that a policeman warned them about the incoming drone but the producer fell while running away and received treatment for the resulting injury to his left arm at a police station.  

The head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional Council Olena Zhuk described the incident as “a blatant attack on the press” in an interview with TV4 Nyheterna, the channel’s news programme.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson also told TV4 that Russia could be trying to prevent media coverage of the war.

“It cannot be ruled out that it is also a consequence that Russia wants to see. That journalists should not dare to be there, that they should get as little coverage as possible from this war,” he said.

Ukraine’s foreign affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko condemned the attack on X, formerly known as Twitter, calling it “yet another” Russian war crime against journalists.

CPJ could not independently confirm the origin of the attack.

Fredriksson, an experienced war reporter who has made regular trips to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, told Channel 24 that the crew would stay in Ukraine and continue to cover the war.

CPJ’s emails to Russia’s Ministry of Defense and the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office did not receive any replies.

At least 15 journalists have been killed while working in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, while many others have been injured, detained, or threatened.