Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, a 32-year-old cameraman with the French privately owned broadcaster BFMTV, was killed on the road to the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, in the Luhansk region, on May 30, 2022, according to a statement by BFMTV, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai and French public service broadcaster France Télévisions.
Oleg Nikolenko, the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesperson, confirmed Leclerc-Imhoff’s killing on Twitter.
Leclerc-Imhoff was reporting on a humanitarian evacuation in the Luhansk region with French BFMTV reporter Maxime Brandstaetter and Ukrainian producer Oksana Leuta when their vehicle, an armored 33-tonne truck (36 U.S. tons) was shelled by Russian forces, according to Haidai and BFMTV reporter Dominique Mari, who spoke to Brandstaetter. The truck was part of a convoy on its way to evacuate 10 elderly civilians trapped in Lysychansk, according to Haidai. According to Mari, Brandstaetter told him they were riding in the truck with police officers, and there were no military forces or civilians in the vehicle when they were shelled. Graphic photos of the scene, posted on Telegram by Haidai and viewed by CPJ, show that it was marked “humanitarian aid.”
Russian forces had shelled Lysychansk on May 28 and were advancing into the neighboring city of Sievierodonetsk on May 30, as part of their push to take control of territory in the Donbas region that was still held by Ukraine, according to Haidai and media reports.
Fragments from a 152-millimeter shell pierced the vehicle’s armor and hit Leclerc-Imhoff, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest and a helmet, in the neck, Haidai told the French public service TV channel franceinfo.
The BFMTV statement said that Brandstaetter was slightly injured in the strike and Leuta was not hit by shrapnel. Later, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office told local press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (IMI) that both Brandstaetter and Leuta suffered concussions and that Brandstaetter sustained a shrapnel wound to his left thigh.
Both Brandstaetter and Leuta were in the back of the truck, while Leclerc-Imhoff was in the front interviewing Ukrainian police officers escorting the humanitarian convoy, Mari and Haidai reported.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Leclerc was killed by a Russian bombing “while he was carrying out his duty to inform” and called for a “transparent investigation” into his death. French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed their condolences to Leclerc-Imhoff”s colleagues and family.
On May 30, 2022, the French anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into alleged “war crimes” related to Leclerc-Imhoff’s killing and Brandstaetter’s injury, media reported. The investigation is to be conducted by the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes, according to those reports. The anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office is also investigating the death of French-Irish journalist Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed on March 14 in the village of Horenka, outside of Kyiv.
On May 31, the Luhansk region police said they had launched a criminal investigation into Leclerc-Imhoff’s death under part 2 of Article 438 of the Ukrainian criminal code for “violation of the laws and customs of war”.
BFMTV director Marc-Olivier Fogiel said in a live interview on his TV channel that Leclerc-Imhoff was on his second assignment in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion. “Frédéric was not a hothead, he had taken a preparatory commando training course. He decided together with Maxime and Oksana where they would go and where they would not go,” Fogiel said.
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay condemned the "murder" of Leclerc-Imhoff and called for an investigation to identify and prosecute the perpetrators. “I reiterate my call for the respect of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2222 (2015) on the protection of media professionals in situations of conflict,” she said.
CPJ emailed BFMTV and the Russian and Ukrainian Ministries of Defense but did not receive any replies. CPJ’s email to the Luhansk regional state administration was returned as undelivered.