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France opens war crime probe into death of Irish journalist killed in Ukraine

Pierre was killed alongside Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire near Kyiv.

Pierre Zakrzewski, left, is photographed with correspondents Steve Harrigan, Yonat Frilling, and Ibrahim Hazboun in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Pierre Zakrzewski, left, is photographed with correspondents Steve Harrigan, Yonat Frilling, and Ibrahim Hazboun in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Image: Fox News

Updated Mar 16th 2022, 8:00 PM

FRENCH PROSECUTORS HAVE opened a war crime probe into the death of Franco-Irish Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski.

The probe by France’s specialised anti-terror prosecutors will investigate possible charges of causing “deliberate harm to a person protected by international law” and a “deliberate attack against a civilian who was not taking part in hostilities.”

French prosecutors routinely open cases into the violent deaths of citizens overseas.

Pierre was killed alongside Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova when their vehicle was struck by incoming fire in Horenka, outside of Kyiv, on Monday. Their colleague Benjamin Hall was wounded and remains in hospital.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian sent his condolences today, adding that “armed forces have an obligation to protect journalists in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

Other media workers have been killed in the three weeks of conflict so far, including US documentary maker Brent Renaud and Ukrainian reporter Evgeny Sakun.

The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights chief Lyudmyla Denisova said Tuesday that another Ukrainian journalist, Viktor Dudar, was killed in fighting around the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

Pierre’s brothers today said he was “so proud” of being Irish and that he would want to be remembered as a truth teller. 

Greg and Nick Zakrzewski told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show that the family is “on autopilot” and that they “haven’t processed anything” since they heard the news of his death. 

Nick said the days since Pierre’s death have been a rollercoaster. 

“Just the messages coming in, the memories of everyone coming in and the condolences coming in from everyone, it’s been a real rollercoaster,” he said.

The brothers said they all grew up in Leopardstown in Dublin and attended school and college in the area. Pierre was the only one of the siblings not born in Dublin as he was born prematurely when their mother was on a trip to Paris, Nick said.

“With four brothers, it’s pretty robust. It’s weird, we’re hearing all this stuff about how he was so nice and he was a hero and all this. I mean, there was none of that when we were kids,” the brothers said, 

Tributes

Nick said Pierre’s ambition to be a journalist came from his love of travel and photography. 

“He had a real love for photography, which then evolved into videography, and it was a combination of travel and photography, videography, which then evolved into getting into photojournalism,” he said. 

After college he left and just travelled and on his own a lot. We were used to travel, we spent our childhood going to Poland, going to France for family reunions. It was just an extension of that, and we just thought it was great and we all followed in his footsteps.

Greg said his brother had spent over 10 years working as a freelance journalist, and covered stories in conflict zones around the world, including in Afghanistan.

“All those years he would have been going off on his own. He was shooting this stuff in post ’89 in Afghanistan when mujahideen were fighting between themselves, and he was going in there finding out who you talk to, to get to the head guy of the tribal head.”

He said he decided to work for Fox News due to the “constant pattern of media crews being attacked and being seen as fair game in war time” while it was becoming difficult for freelancers to protect themselves.

“Increasingly it’s becoming very difficult for freelance guys to protect themselves. If you think back to Iraq, all the guys who were kidnapped and subsequently beheaded, they were all freelance who didn’t have the security backup behind them,” he said.

“So I think my brother saw that happening and also saw changes in the media, so he switched to Fox, and I’d say he probably had mixed feelings about that. He was losing a certain amount of independence, now we never spoke about it, but I suspect he’d probably say something along the lines of ‘listen, I’d no choice’.”

Greg said his brother had voiced his concern about the fact that there was “no frontline” in Ukraine. “He always said that that was the dodgiest scenario to be in,” he said.

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“The scenario in Ukraine at the moment is you don’t know where the guns shooting at you are, are they in front of you, behind you, left or right, you don’t know.”

Proud of being Irish

Nick said Pierre was brave but not reckless, and described him as “a calculated risk taker”. 

He was so proud of being Irish and he was so proud of the access and the view worldwide of the Irish. It’s a real positive thing. I also think the fact that he’s Irish is a very important part of his moral makeup.

Greg and Nick said their brother could not do his job without helping those involved in the conflicts that he was reporting on. They said Pierre helped many people fleeing Afghanistan to get past checkpoints and had recently found a baby alone on the streets of Kyiv and brought him to a hospital with the crew. 

They said they’re both very proud of their brother, who was “adored” by his nieces and nephews.

“He’s the uncle they all look up to. There’s 11 of them, they all love him, they all adore him,” Nick said.

Greg said he thinks Pierre would like to be remembered as a truth teller.

We were talking amongst ourselves about what would sum him up in terms of his job, and it’s just the truth. The truth, the truth, the truth.

“He was kind of no nonsense. There’s a bit of talk about how he was a hero and he just, he was very good at his job and he took it very seriously. He was a very hard worker.”

“He wanted to be remembered for the images that he created that he got out there. Without those images, people wouldn’t be seeing what’s actually going on, and ultimately, I think what he really wanted to be remembered for,” Nick said.

The brothers said the family is now coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Fox News and Pierre’s wife about bringing his body home. 

About the author:

Jane Moore

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