Documentary filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius, 45, was killed in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol between March 28 and April 2, 2022, according to multiple news reports, social media posts by his friends and colleagues, and a statement by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. Kvedaravičius’ death was made public on April 2, 2022.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, Russian forces laid siege to Mariupol and repeatedly harassed people attempting to flee the city. At least 21,000 civilians had been killed there as of June 2022, according to reports.
The circumstances surrounding Kvedaravičius’ death remain unclear. Several sources have published accounts of his killing, but CPJ has not been able to independently verify the cause of death or the identities of those responsible.
Kvedaravičius traveled to Mariupol on March 19, 2022, to provide humanitarian aid to its residents who could not leave the city and to film a sequel to his 2016 documentary film “Mariupolis”, according to his wife Anna Belobrova who gave an interview to Lithuania’s National Radio and Television (LRT).
Director Vitaliy Manski wrote on Facebook that Kvedaravičius was killed “with a camera in his hand.” According to Reuters, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda issued a statement saying that Kvedaravičius “until the very last moment, in spite of danger, worked in Russia-occupied Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian defense ministry’s statement, posted April 2, alleged that Russian forces had killed the director as he tried to leave the besieged city.
On April 9, Ukrainian Ombudsman Ludmila Denisova wrote on Facebook that Russian forces had taken Kvedaravičius prisoner and then shot and executed him. Denisova did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
According to an October 14 report by investigative news outlet Proekt and independent online magazine Spektr.Press, Russian forces detained Kvedaravičius on March 28 as he was escorting civilians out of Mariupol, where he went to film the second part of his 2016 documentary film “Mariupolis.”
Kvedaravičius was detained alongside the driver of a minibus that was transporting civilians, the report said. The driver was released on March 28 and said that he and Kvedaravičius were undressed and checked for tattoos and injuries characteristic of combat operations, according to the report. He said the Russian forces found a bruise on Kvedaravičius’ back from a bag he was carrying and decided to hold him “until the circumstances are clarified.” Soldiers pay attention to bruises because they can be traces from a bulletproof vest or weapon, Proekt explained.
On April 2, Belobrova, found his body with bullet wounds “on a pile of garbage” near the place he was detained, which was controlled at the time by fighters from Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, according to the report, which cited his wife and eyewitnesses. The report quoted Belobrova as saying that she brought his body back to Lithuania to be buried.
The Lithuanian prosecutor’s office said that it planned to investigate Kvedaravičius’ killing as part of a larger investigation into alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, according to news reports.
Kvedaravičius gained international attention for his 2011 film “Barzakh,” which covered a man’s disappearance in Chechnya and was awarded the Amnesty International Film Prize.
His documentary film “Mariupolis,” about the Ukrainian city, was shown at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival and sought to portray “the course of life during wartime — how regular people carry on with their everyday lives mere steps away from a war zone, gunshots, explosions, and death,” Kvedaravičius told the Odessa Review in 2016.
Video fragments recovered from Kvedaravičius’ phone when his body was found were used to make the film “Mariupolis-2,” which was shown at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, according to news reports.
CPJ emailed the Russian and Ukrainian Ministries of Defense but did not receive any replies.