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.

Mr. Levin is pictured in a 2018 photo taken in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Image Credit: Inna Varenytsia/AP

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.”

They found the crime scene and Max Levin’s burned-out Ford Maverick in a forest north of Kyiv. Image Credit: Patrick Chauvel May 28th, 2022

The Timeline

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.