RSF reveals that journalist Maks Levin was executed by Russian troops

Maks Levin [Twitter]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released on Wednesday (22 June) a report with evidence indicating that Ukrainian photo journalist Maks Levin and his friend and bodyguard were executed by Russian soldiers in a forest near Kyiv, possibly after being interrogated and even tortured.

RSF published their report following a visit to Ukraine from 24 May to 3 June to investigate the murder of Levin and his friend, the soldier Oleksiy Chernyshov, whose bodies were found on 1 April in a forest close to Moshchun, a village 20 km north of Kyiv . The two men had been killed on 13 March.

RSF sent two investigators to collect evidence and search for clues: Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s investigation desk, and Patrick Chauvel, a French war photo-reporter who had worked with Levin in the Donbas at the end of February. They concluded that Levin and Chernyshov were executed in cold blood.

According to RSF, the evidence against the Russian forces is overwhelming.

Aged 40, Levin was an experienced freelancer who often collaborated with, a respected Ukrainian news site, and with the news agency Reuters. When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, he contacted a group of soldiers he had known since covering the conflict in the Donbas in 2014. He wanted to cover this war as closely as possible to those fighting it, and above all, to those being subjected to it.

On 10 March, Levin lost his drone in the forest near Moshchun while trying to get footage from Russia’s military invasion in the area. When he returned to these woods three days later, the Russians were already occupying part of the forest. The terrain was hostile but Levin was determined to recover his drone at all costs because he was convinced that the last images it had taken were very important. He did not succeed.

When RSF arrived in Ukraine on 24 May to begin its investigation, Russia had withdrawn its troops from the region for several weeks. But the area was still dangerous. The Russians left traps and explosive devices.

Accompanied by members of the security forces, RSF managed to locate the crime scene. Levin’s charred Ford Maverick was still there. RSF found several bullets at the scene, along with the identity papers of Chernyshov, the soldier who was with Levin, and identified 14 bullet impacts in his car. Several items with possible DNA traces attesting to the presence of Russian soldiers very close to the spot where Levin and Chernyshov were killed were also identified by RSF and some of them were taken. In a final search phase initiated by RSF, metal detectors located a bullet that had probably struck Levin.

RSF has not been able to answer all the questions, which are still numerous at this stage, but has developed two hypotheses on the basis of all these elements.

Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary-general, said that analysis of the photos of the crime scene, observations made on the spot and material evidence recovered c”learly point to an execution that may have been preceded by interrogation or even acts of torture”.

“In the context of a war heavily marked by propaganda and Kremlin censorship, Maks Levin and his friend paid with their lives for their fight for reliable information. We owe them the truth. And we will fight to identify and find those who executed them”, he added.

Maks Levin is one of eight journalists who have been killed in the course of their work since the start of the war in Ukraine. The latest media victim is Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, a French video reporter working for the French TV news channel BFM TV, who was killed by shrapnel from a shell fired by Russian forces on 30 May.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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