Fox Information journalists have been killed in Ukraine. A widow nonetheless searches for solutions.

Michelle Ross-Stanton has spent months investigating the March 14 assault on her husband, Pierre Zakrzewski, and his colleagues outdoors Kyiv.

Michelle Ross-Stanton at the London flat she used to share with her husband, Pierre Zakrzewski. (Tori Ferenc for The Washington Post)
Michelle Ross-Stanton on the London flat she used to share together with her husband, Pierre Zakrzewski. (Tori Ferenc for The Washington Publish)


Pierre Zakrzewski had at all times come dwelling. From Syria. From Libya. From Afghanistan.

As a cameraman and photographer who had spent most of his lengthy profession in battle zones, he knew when to duck, when to run, the dicey situations to navigate, the difficulty spots to keep away from.

So when Michelle Ross-Stanton acquired a telephone name from Fox Information chief govt Suzanne Scott on the night of March 14 saying that her husband had been lacking in Ukraine for 5 hours, she figured that he was hunkered down someplace. Most likely tending to the members of his workforce, as he’d at all times executed.

“I made a decision to not inform his household,” she mentioned, “as a result of I used to be so positive he was going to point out up. All of us knew he had 9 lives.”

However Ross-Stanton wasn’t ready for the subsequent message from Fox: A former journalist herself, she began making calls from her London dwelling that evening to mates, sources, distant connections — anybody who may know one thing about Pierre.

The following day she realized that Zakrzewski, 55, had been killed, together with a 24-year-old Ukrainian journalist on his workforce, Oleksandra Kuvshynova. That they had been within the Kyiv suburb of Horenka on a reporting journey when their automobile was hit by an explosion. The third member of their reporting workforce, Benjamin Corridor, then 39, was alive however struggling grave accidents that will price him a foot, a watch and a part of his leg. Two Ukrainian troopers they have been touring with have been killed as properly, The Washington Publish has realized.

Seven months later, Ross-Stanton hasn’t stopped working the telephones.

For struggle correspondents, the danger of dying has lengthy been accepted as a part of the job. Already, 15 journalists have been killed in Ukraine because the struggle started in February, in accordance with the Committee to Defend Journalists. However as of November, Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova stay the one journalists working for a U.S. tv community who’ve died on this battle.

Ross-Stanton stays on a quest to grasp the murky circumstances of her husband’s dying. Although she has pieced collectively a number of the story of how his workforce ventured out to the entrance traces of the combating at a very harmful time, she remains to be attempting to find out whether or not anybody — past the army drive that launched the assault — is liable for what occurred, or for the chaotic aftermath.

One explicit element continues to bother her: The workforce of safety consultants employed by Fox to work with its journalists in Ukraine was not touring together with her husband and his workforce after they have been attacked.

Her frustration with the dearth of knowledge is shared by the dad and mom of Kuvshynova, a younger arts maven and aspiring journalist who launched into conflict-zone reporting when her nation was invaded. They mentioned nobody from Fox referred to as to inform them that their daughter had been attacked, they usually haven’t been given any extra info within the months that adopted about how she died. They first turned conscious of the incident after studying a social media submit from a Ukrainian authorities official. “We weren’t saved within the loop in any respect. The communication was not enough,” mentioned her father, Andrey Kuvshynov. “We realized about it from the web.”

A Fox Information spokesperson mentioned that senior management was in contact with each households and labored with a translator to speak with Kuvshynova’s dad and mom.

In an announcement, the spokesperson added that Fox was fully devastated by their deaths. “Their extraordinary dedication to telling the tales of these impacted by the struggle in Ukraine positioned a crucial highlight on the atrocities unfolding there each day — we’re endlessly grateful for his or her dedication to journalism and their final sacrifice. We did every thing humanly attainable within the aftermath of this unprecedented tragedy amid the chaos of a struggle zone.”

Whereas she declined to debate the main points, Ross-Stanton mentioned she remains to be in talks with Fox over a settlement that would supply compensation for Zakrzewski’s dying. In the meantime, with a pocket book and calendar at her facet, she has been setting up a chronology of her husband’s last days and hours.

“I need the reality and I need the entire fact and I wish to know precisely what occurred,” Ross-Stanton mentioned within the first interview she has given about her husband’s dying. “It’s not that I don’t belief Fox to offer me the appropriate solutions, however I don’t belief anyone to offer me the solutions that I wish to hear.”

Zakrzewski arrived in Ukraine in late January together with a crew of Fox Information colleagues. After checking into the InterContinental Kyiv lodge — a well-liked base camp for Western journalists — they set to work reporting on the rising threats of a Russian invasion.

A relentlessly upbeat presence with a shaggy push-broom mustache, Zakrzewski got here to this task with a better standing than most digicam operators. A repute for competence and command constructed over his a long time of subject expertise had additionally positioned him to tackle a number of the conventional tasks of a producer. From his dwelling base of London, he was often dispatched to hazard zones in addition to for much less perilous information tales throughout Europe, reminiscent of British royal features — which his spouse says he didn’t notably take pleasure in protecting. Even their holidays have been globe-trotting adventures. Household movies present Zakrzewski — a French-Irish twin citizen referred to as “The Mad Irishman” by some mates — zooming round on his motorbike, chatting up the locals.

“He by no means unpacked,” Ross-Stanton mentioned. “I realized to not purchase meals for greater than two days at a time. For him, it was a way of life alternative.”

Of their first weeks, the Fox Information workforce produced common updates on the Russian risk, normally by the lens of Zakrzewski’s digicam. Many have been broadcast dwell from the lodge’s rooftop, although correspondents additionally went to the streets of Kyiv and different cities, speaking to residents concerning the rising threats of struggle. In late January, Fox reported on a bunch of civilians coaching for fight; in February, it captured scenes of Ukrainian troopers conducting live-fire coaching outdoors of Chernobyl and, later, youngsters lobbing grenades to organize for guerrilla fight.

Many of the Fox employees had labored collectively earlier than. However they’d one new member of the workforce: Oleksandra Kuvshynova, a pageant organizer and publicist who seen the prospect to work with Fox as an important alternative to interrupt into journalism. Beginning in mid-January, she started serving to the Fox crew coordinate and translate interviews and discover their approach across the area. She bonded together with her new colleagues over their shared love of espresso and her ardour for music.

“We have been very pleased with her and knew it was vital work to do when the struggle began,” her father mentioned, talking for himself and her mom, Iryna Mamaysur. When her dad and mom fretted about her security, “she tried to calm us down and advised us that Fox Information was dependable, they usually had all safety measures in place.”

Lately, Fox Information has cemented its scores dominance with a concentrate on hot-button conservative punditry, and its newsgathering presence in Ukraine was smaller than a few of its opponents’ — about 20 folks through the battle’s early weeks, whereas CNN had 75 initially of the invasion.

However “Fox threw every thing at Ukraine,” Ross-Stanton mentioned. “They did throw numerous sources at it. Everyone was over there.”

The Kyiv bureau’s first on-camera brush with hazard occurred on Feb. 19, when correspondent Trey Yingst traveled to Ukraine’s jap border and broadcast footage of troops getting ready for the invasion. As Yingst interviewed the nation’s inside minister, Russian-backed separatists started artillery strikes. The correspondent made a run for it on dwell tv. As Zakrzewski’s jostling digicam tried to maintain up, Yingst might be heard yelling, “The place’s Pierre? The place’s Pierre?”

The Publish examined the lead-up to the Ukraine struggle. Right here’s what we realized.

On Feb. 24, Russia started its assault on Ukraine. Corridor, who primarily coated the State Division from Washington, moved from the relative security of the western metropolis of Lviv to hitch the Kyiv employees. On March 11, the British-born correspondent reported on air that Russian troops have been poised to invade the capital. Fox aired a section filmed at a youngsters’s hospital in Kyiv — the voices of younger sufferers raised in track, the half-covered physique of a useless boy mendacity on the ground. Air raid sirens might be heard within the distance.

“Thanks, Benji,” anchor John Roberts mentioned on the conclusion of the report. “Keep secure.”

Because the Russians superior throughout Ukraine that month, journalists turned captivated by one evacuation route: the bridge throughout the Irpin River that separated Kyiv from the weak western suburb of Irpin. Ukrainian forces had destroyed the bridge to maintain Russian tanks from rolling into the capital from the west, however now panicked suburbanites have been struggling throughout wood planks laid on high of the water to flee the shelling — a dramatic scene highlighted in lots of information tales.

Then, on March 13, an American documentary filmmaker was shot and killed whereas passing by a army checkpoint on the western facet of the river. Brent Renaud, 50, had been engaged on a challenge about struggle refugees for Time Studios. Zakrzewski witnessed the taking pictures from a ways away, in accordance with his spouse.

Renaud’s dying shocked the Kyiv-based press corps. It additionally jumbled their logistics: The mayor of Irpin referred to as for journalists to remain away, and a important freeway was closed off, forcing those that wished to journey to the entrance to take a extra oblique route.

The following day, March 14, Zakrzewski headed again into the western suburbs with Corridor and Kuvshynova.

From the second she realized her husband was lacking, Ross-Stanton went her personal approach.

That evening, she started reaching out to her husband’s colleagues, to an array of contacts from her personal profession as a videographer for the BBC and advocacy organizations. “Each single journalist that I knew on the bottom, I contacted them to say, ‘Assist, discover my husband.’ ”

Later, after she bought the decision that Zakrzewski was useless, Ross-Stanton insisted on flying to Krakow, Poland, then touring to the Ukrainian border to retrieve his physique. Fox Information paid for the non-public airplane and later for the funeral in Eire, however she rebuffed strategies that its executives accompany her or make the journey for her.

“I used to be very impolite to the CEO of Fox Information,” she mentioned, including that she later apologized. “I mentioned, ‘No, I’m going. He’s my husband, and I’m going to get him.’ … I used to be ready to go to Kyiv if I needed to and drag him out of the morgue if I needed to.”

After which she got down to study precisely how her husband died.

Corridor, the lone survivor of the assault, remains to be recovering from devastating accidents. He has not publicly described what occurred, and Fox Information didn’t make him accessible for an interview.

However from conversations together with her husband’s co-workers and different sources with firsthand information, Ross-Stanton has re-created most of his last day.

She believes Zakrzewski, Corridor and Kuvshynova left Kyiv round noon with the plan of filming troopers digging trenches to mount a protection of the capital. When army officers waved them away, they detoured to a village that had not too long ago been shelled. The workforce most likely ended up within the village of Horenka by the use of a street that looped the good distance across the off-limits city of Irpin.

The Fox Information workforce didn’t journey alone. Two troopers from a Ukrainian militia, the Azov Battalion, gave them a experience from a gathering level within the western suburbs, mentioned the group’s co-founder and high commander, Col. Andriy Biletsky. The group was shaped in 2014, and its far-right views made its members controversial figures early within the struggle, although they’d later be hailed as heroes for his or her lengthy, doomed protection of Mariupol.

Zakrzewski felt assured of their security, his spouse says, as a result of a workforce of New York Occasions journalists had made the identical journey with the identical troopers sooner or later earlier. However “there was numerous shelling,” mentioned Andriy Dubchak, a Ukrainian reporter who labored with the Occasions on that task. “Nobody knew the place the entrance line was. It was actually unpredictable.”

The letters left behind by demoralized Russian troopers as they fled

Sviatoslav Yurash, an in depth buddy of Kuvshynova who serves within the Ukrainian parliament, mentioned army investigators advised him that they consider the Fox crew was filming after they noticed Russian forces and tried to discover a safer location — solely to finish up within the path of artillery fireplace, probably launched from the close by Russian-controlled city of Hostomel. From her personal reporting, Ross-Stanton believes the assault occurred after they have been stopped at a checkpoint as an alternative.

The barrage was intense — most likely about 40 rockets, in accordance with Biletsky, the Azov commander. When Yurash visited the scene later with Kuvshynova’s father, they discovered utter devastation, with homes and automobiles decimated by shelling.

Nonetheless, the shelling was “very imprecise,” Biletsky mentioned: That the Fox workforce’s automobile occurred to be the place the rockets landed was “fantastically poor luck.”

Based on video from the scene seen by Ross-Stanton, the primary shell landed about 20 ft in entrance of their automobile. She says she might hear her husband shouting “Reverse! Reverse!” and “Get out!” Kuvshynova was trapped within the automobile, Ross-Stanton realized from two folks with shut information of the incident, whereas Corridor and Zakrzewski escaped or have been thrown from the automobile. She believes {that a} shell sprayed the shrapnel that pierced her husband’s femoral artery slightly below his flak jacket. Each Azov troopers have been killed, Biletsky mentioned.

Again in Kyiv, although, all anybody knew that afternoon was that the Fox workforce was lacking.

As phrase started to unfold, safety consultants employed by Western media organizations huddled on the InterContinental Kyiv, conferring in hushed tones about how they may assist. Kuvshynova’s dad and mom — who solely knew she had headed out on a reporting journey that day — grew involved when she stopped responding to messages.

Dubchak, the Ukrainian stringer for the New York Occasions, spent hours that night accompanying two safety consultants — one with the Occasions, the opposite with Fox — on a search of space hospitals. They finally situated Corridor in a single hospital, the place he had been transported by troopers who discovered him on the blast scene. Jennifer Griffin, Fox’s nationwide safety correspondent who had been aiding the search from Washington, scrambled to assist coordinate Corridor’s evacuation through ambulance to the Polish border, then to a U.S. army hospital in Germany.

However Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova remained lacking. With dusk and continued shelling within the space, Dubchak suggested them to droop the search till the morning.

Again in the US that very same day, Fox Information anchor John Roberts delivered the information that Corridor had been injured, giving few particulars and saying nothing about his colleagues.

The next day, roughly 20 hours after Zakrzewski was identified to be lacking, the 2 safety consultants working for Fox discovered his physique in a morgue.

There was a right away outpouring of grief when Fox Information reported the dying of the broadly beloved cameraman. As phrase started to flow into in Kyiv that Kuvshynova additionally had died, some journalists chided Fox on Twitter for not promptly reporting this information.

In truth, the community was ready out of deference to her household, who had identified so little concerning the work she was doing, or the hazard it concerned, that they couldn’t comprehend why they have been requested — the day after the assault — to come back to the InterContinental Kyiv to gather her belongings. Once they weren’t given a proof for the journey, they determined to not go. Yurash, who had as soon as labored as an area producer for Fox, tried to persuade them that she had been killed. But it surely wasn’t till one more day handed, her father mentioned, {that a} coroner at an area morgue confirmed her dying for them.

Finally, Ross-Stanton would come to grasp one motive for each the confusion of that day and the scarcity of knowledge she might receive: Besides for his or her militia escorts, the Fox Information crew was alone on the market in Horenka.

“Why did they find yourself there?” requested Kuvshynova’s father in an anguished interview he gave to a month after her dying.

Now, Kuvshynov says: “It was the fallacious determination to ship them on that particular task and to that location, as a result of they knew it was extraordinarily harmful.”

Some journalists — together with just a few Fox colleagues — felt the identical approach initially, noting the dying of Renaud within the space a day earlier.

However finally, many of the overseas correspondents interviewed by The Publish — a close-knit neighborhood nonetheless grappling with the deaths of their mates — determined that the Fox Information workforce had merely gone the place the story was that day. The Publish spoke with greater than 10 correspondents from a wide range of information organizations; many mentioned that they’d have taken the identical journey and that the Fox crew had merely accepted the usual diploma of affordable threat that comes with their line of labor. Ross-Stanton agrees: “They didn’t think about it a dangerous mission,” she mentioned.

“He was a person with nice bravery, however I’ve positively been with him when he mentioned, ‘Properly, I’m not doing that one.’”

— Stuart Ramsay

Many journalists expressed confidence in Zakrzewski’s instincts and warning, his behavior of conducting what his spouse referred to as “dynamic threat assessments” with each task.

“He was a person with nice bravery, however I’ve positively been with him when he mentioned, ‘Properly, I’m not doing that one,’ ” mentioned Stuart Ramsay of Britain’s Sky Information, a buddy of a few years.

A number of Kyiv-based correspondents mentioned Renaud’s dying factored into their very own decision-making however didn’t hold them from leaving their motels. “Our administration again at dwelling in London, they don’t say, ‘You’re not going out immediately as a result of this has occurred,’ ” mentioned Jeremy Bowen, a veteran BBC correspondent.

A consultant for Fox Information mentioned community officers mentioned security and warning with its workforce in Kyiv each day. Renaud’s dying “was a part of that dialogue, and we have been at all times urging warning,” the individual mentioned.

The fact of tv journalism is that reporters want visuals to inform a narrative — and venturing into the world to gather footage produces a extra compelling bundle than a stand-up broadcast from a lodge rooftop in Kyiv. “Your networks are at all times completely satisfied to take footage, till one thing goes fallacious,” mentioned a former Fox Information overseas correspondent, talking on the situation of anonymity to protect relationships.

Ukrainians communicate of sorrow, rape and suspicion beneath Russian occupation

However some questioned whether or not the Fox workforce ought to have traveled with the militia.

“There isn’t any safety function that means that you can journey with troopers within the entrance line beneath fireplace,” mentioned Anton Skyba, a veteran native producer in Ukraine who now works for Canada’s Globe and Mail.

“If you’re with the Ukrainian army wherever, you might be on the threat of being hit by shell fireplace, as a result of it’s an artillery struggle,” mentioned Richard Spencer, a correspondent for the Occasions of London, who had tried a visit to Horenka just a few days earlier than the Fox workforce.

But it surely’s common for media organizations to “embed” with a army unit in an lively struggle zone. A number of correspondents mentioned it was usually the one approach for journalists to cowl the Ukrainian entrance traces.

Dubchak didn’t suppose twice about embedding with the Azov troopers the day earlier than the Fox workforce went out. “They know the areas. They know the realm,” he mentioned. “They usually have a gun to guard us if one thing occurs.”

Within the months since her husband’s dying, Ross-Stanton’s investigation has centered closely on the query of whom his workforce did not journey with in its last hour — anybody from the workforce of safety consultants employed by Fox to offer logistical assist and steerage.

In battle zones, safety consultants usually function battlefield medics and extraction specialists, marshaling sources to evacuate injured journalists. Most main information organizations working in Ukraine have employed in-house safety consultants or work with contractors.

Fox Information has lengthy contracted a safety agency referred to as Separ Worldwide, a small firm that conducts hostile-environment-awareness coaching for a wide range of media organizations.

“Commonplace working process is for safety to go along with them. Why didn’t they?”

— Michelle Ross-Stanton

Fox acknowledged in an announcement to within the spring that the journalists separated from the safety workforce: “Our safety workforce knew precisely the place they have been. We knew the place we dropped them off, the place they have been going, and the place they ended up.”

Ross-Stanton was baffled by this account — noting that workforce was lacking for a number of hours. “They’ve mentioned that they knew precisely the place they have been the entire time, and that’s not true,” she countered.

“Commonplace working process is for safety to go along with them,” she mentioned. “Why didn’t they?”

From her sources, she realized that the consultants stayed behind after dropping them off with the troopers as a result of there wasn’t sufficient room within the Azov automobile. She argues, although, that in conditions like that, safety consultants usually journey behind in a separate automobile — a place from which they may have been in a position to assist after the Fox automobile was struck.

“What runs by my head each single evening is: What if?” she mentioned. “If [the consultants] had been there, would they’ve been in a position to save Pierre? As a result of all he wanted was strain on his wound to cease the bleeding. That’s all he wanted.”

Reached by telephone, Separ Worldwide chief govt Stephen Smith mentioned he couldn’t focus on the assault due to the sensitivity of the matter and out of respect to the households of these killed. A Fox Information spokesperson declined to touch upon Separ’s actions on the day of the assault.

However the journalist who took the identical journey a day earlier gives a attainable clarification:

When Dubchak and his Occasions colleagues approached a checkpoint close to Horenka with their Azov escorts, the guards would permit solely one in all their two automobiles to move, citing security considerations. Two automobiles, they defined, would supply the Russians a much bigger goal than one.

Assuming the Fox workforce confronted the identical impediment, the choice whether or not to journey on with out safety — on what was speculated to be a fast journey, to a vacation spot lower than a mile from the place their safety element would reunite with them — would have most likely been made between the journalists and the Separ workforce.

“I’d like to know who made that call for them to not go,” Ross-Stanton mentioned. “In some methods I kind of hope it was Pierre that advised them to not come as a result of it was too harmful, as a result of then I’m not going guilty anyone for his dying.”

Each struggle correspondent finds a approach to come to phrases with the dangers. A few of Zakrzewski’s mates at the moment are reevaluating them.

“You inform your self that you can be okay since you are very cautious,” mentioned Clarissa Ward, a longtime overseas correspondent now with CNN. “However the actuality is that there’s a component of luck and randomness to all of it, and Pierre’s dying actually rammed that dwelling for me.”

Sky Information’s Ramsay — who survived an explosion in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017 and was shot within the decrease again close to Kyiv in late February — teared up as he recalled the emotional final hug he shared with Zakrzewski earlier than he left Ukraine to get better from his accidents: “My final phrases to him have been, ‘Please take care. It’s actually harmful.’ ”

Now, Ramsay mentioned, he finds himself questioning: “Is it attainable to do that job with out it being extremely harmful? If it’s not extremely harmful, you’re most likely not doing it.”

“Pierre was unfortunate,” mentioned Nabih Bulos, a Los Angeles Occasions correspondent who has reported extensively on Ukraine. “They may say the identical factor about me sooner or later.”

On a latest afternoon, Ross-Stanton sat in the lounge of the small flat she shared together with her husband in southeast London, a spot stuffed with relics of abroad assignments: his passports, a fuel masks, his famously giant assortment of fanny packs.

There have been condolence letters from President Biden and Mick Jagger, and a observe she had as soon as scrawled for him in marker on the again of an envelope: “Put your self first. It’s solely TV — not life and dying!”

Zakrzewski “would have beloved to have been a father,” his spouse says, however she anxious about elevating a baby whereas he was off working in harmful locations.

“Our plan was for Pierre to retire early, and we have been going to go off on our boat and have a canine, a water canine,” she mentioned. “We simply had so many plans.”

Now the outdated Dutch barge that he spent countless hours repairing — his “costly mistress,” Ross-Stanton jokes — stays docked in western London, its hull that includes a brand new portrait of Zakrzewski and his household’s new mantra: #BeMoreLikePierre.

Ross-Stanton doesn’t like being alone within the flat anymore. She’s fascinated with shifting.

In an look at a Fox Information employees assembly in September, Corridor spoke up for the work that had price his workforce a lot. “After we suppose again to each Pierre and [Oleksandra], we’ve to recollect what we will study from them,” he mentioned. “That what we do, that this job is so vital that we’ve to maintain doing it. We now have to maintain doing it of their names.”

In truth, the fallout from their deaths has been bitter. Legal professionals for Kuvshynova’s dad and mom mentioned they despatched questions for Fox to ask Corridor about her work task and the circumstances of the assault — particulars they sought to assist prosecute Russia for a struggle crime. “They weren’t useful in any respect,” the lawyer, Olga Grygorovska, advised The Publish. “After we had a chat with two of their attorneys, they merely ignored our requests.”

Ross-Stanton mentioned pointedly of her still-unresolved settlement talks with Fox: “Pierre thought that I’d be taken care of if something occurred to him,” including that he joined the community as a full-time staffer to ensure a “stage of safety” for her.

But she agreed with Corridor that conflict-zone reporting is well worth the dangers.

“Pierre wished to inform the reality,” she mentioned. “He wished to be the voice for individuals who didn’t have a voice. … This was precisely what he wished to be doing.”

She continued: “I get indignant when folks say they don’t watch the information as a result of it’s too miserable. And I clarify that folks threat their lives to convey you that information in order that you already know what’s occurring on the earth, and try to be watching it.”

She remains to be making calls, monitoring down sources, looking for solutions. She has taken a task as a key witness in a war-crimes tribunal investigation launched by France in March and hopes the findings will yield new particulars — although, she mentioned, “I don’t know if we’ll ever really discover out the reality.” She can be elevating cash for medical support to Ukraine and plans to determine awards by the Frontline Membership, knowledgeable group supporting freelance journalists, to honor each her husband and Kuvshynova.

“I’m dedicating myself to maintaining his legacy alive,” she mentioned. “That’s my job. That’s what’s maintaining me going.”

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