Celebrated Ukrainian photojournalist Maks Levin and a soldier he was with were “undoubtedly executed in cold blood, possibly after being tortured” by Russian soldiers when they were killed near Kyiv in March, according to an investigation.
The bodies of Levin, 40, who was covering the war for Reuters and other media outlets, and his friend Oleksiy Chernyshov, were found in a forest near the village of Huta-Mezhyhirska, 3km north of the Ukrainian capital on April 1, more than two weeks after the pair went missing.
The report by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, published Wednesday, said: “The crime scene photos and observations show that the two men were undoubtedly executed in cold blood, possibly after being tortured. Some of the evidence, including the position of Chernyshov’s body, could indicate that he was burned alive.
“Observations based on the photos of Levin’s body and the discovery of a bullet buried 15 cm in the ground at the exact spot where his body was found indicate that he was probably killed by one or two gunshots fired from a close range when the journalist was already on the ground.”
Levin’s body was found with one bullet in the chest and two in his head. The investigation found that there was clear presence of Russian soldiers near the murder scene and speculated that it was most likely the men’s killers were from either the Russian Guard’s 106th airborne division or a special forces unit.
The report said the two men may have been in the forest to retrieve Levin’s drone, which he used to report on the war. Levin’s car was ambushed, peppered with 14 bullet holes, and burned.
Levin’s partner, Zoriana Stelmakh, 24, who helped with the investigation, told VICE World News: “It’s hard to accept the death of a beloved person, but even harder to learn that he could have been tortured. I can’t tell if I feel hate, because I’m still in so much pain. But I want them to pay for what they’ve done to him.”
Levin with his girlfriend. PHOTO: Zoriana Stelmakh
A week after her partner’s body was found, Stelmakh told VICE World News in April: “He wasn’t afraid of anything. He wanted to show the kind of people who are fighting for Ukraine, that these soldiers are all sons, fathers and brothers, human beings defending their family and kids from the enemy.”
The report found he was wearing a blue armband like those worn by Ukrainian soldiers and was not wearing his press flak jacket at the time of his death, although the investigators said Russian soldiers may have forced him to remove it.
Levin, from Kyiv, had been covering the defence of his country since the war in Ukraine against Russian backed separatists in 2014. He is survived by four sons.
His images and thoughts from the front line appeared in a VICE World News article in March.
The Ukrainian authorities said that as of the end of May, 32 journalists had been killed since the start of the Russian invasion on 24 February, eight of them in the course of their work.