A Dangerous Profession
War is an equal opportunity killer. Munitions don’t care if you are young or old, Russian or Ukrainian, combatant or correspondent. That’s why I can honestly say that journalists are some of the bravest people out there because they are constantly putting themselves in harm’s way with no ability or intent to fight back. Instead, they are neutral observers, the eyes and ears of curious people.
We have recently learned of the death of one of these brave reporters, photojournalist Maksym (Max) Levin.
The Ukrainian-born Max, who had worked in the past for organizations such as Reuters, the BBC, and numerous Ukrainian news outlets, had been missing since March and was found dead in April. He had been reporting from locations around the capital of Kyiv when he disappeared.
RSF (Reporters Without Borders) sent two investigators to gather evidence on Levin’s death. Levin was one of at least Twenty-Three journalists killed performing their duties in Ukraine since the war began in February. He was killed along with the soldier accompanying him and acting as his bodyguard. RSF published a 16-page report on their findings, which can be read here. Its contents were instrumental in helping me write this article.
The investigators went to Ukraine, searching for details from May 24th to June 3rd. Both men had known Levin. They concluded that Levin and Chernyshov (his bodyguard) were killed execution style . Co-investigator Patrick Chauvel had many memories of his friend Max. He tells us,
“He used to drive very fast down the roads full of potholes that ran along the front, where Ukrainian soldiers were resisting the Russian invader. He was in a hurry to find the truth, the first victim of wars.”
It was March 10th when Levin lost his drone in the forest near Moshchun, Ukraine, while trying to obtain aerial footage of Russia’s ongoing invasion of the area. Three days later, he returned to that area of the woods, partially occupied by Russian troops. He knew it would be a dangerous trip (that’s why he brought a Ukrainian soldier along) but thought it was worth the risk because he was convinced he had obtained some critical footage. Unfortunately, he never managed to recover his drone.
By the time the two-person RSF team arrived, enemy soldiers had been gone for some time. However, the area was still dangerous, with unexploded mines and booby traps remaining. The team, aided by Ukrainian security forces, was quick to find Levin’s burned-out vehicle by the side of a trail. There were 14 bullet holes in the car. At the scene, they found identification papers for Chernyshov and DNA traces of evidence that told them Russian forces were in proximity.
Levin’s remains were located about 17 meters behind the car, and Chernyshov’s body was discovered two to three meters from the vehicle’s passenger side. Both men had been shot in the back of the head. In addition, two burned bullets were found inside the car. One was a round of the size typically fired by Russian Kalashnikovs. The other was a larger round of the kind used by Russian Special Forces. The bodies, along with the vehicle, were doused with gasoline and set ablaze.
The investigators determined that those responsible for murdering Levin and Chernyshov were members of the Russian Guard’s 106th airborne division or an unknown special forces unit.
To dive deeper into this matter, we cite the full report as a reference for those who need more insights on Levin’s death.