PARIS (AP) — A 32-year-old French journalist was killed Monday in eastern Ukraine, fatally hit by shell shrapnel while covering a Ukrainian evacuation operation, according to the French news broadcaster he worked for.
BFM TV said Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff was killed as he was “covering a humanitarian operation in an armored vehicle” near Sievierodonetsk, a key city in the Donbas region that is being hotly contested by Russian and Ukrainian forces. He had worked for six years for the French television channel.
French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Leclerc-Imhoff on Twitter, saying he “was in Ukraine to show the reality of the war.”
“Aboard a humanitarian bus, alongside civilians forced to flee to escape Russian bombs, he was fatally shot,” Macron tweeted.
Macron expressed condolences to his family, relatives and colleagues and spoke of “France’s unconditional support” to “those who carry out the difficult mission of informing in theaters of operations.”
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the journalist’s death was “deeply shocking.” She tweeted that he was killed “by Russian bombing.”
“France demands that a transparent inquiry be launched as soon as possible to shed full light on the circumstances of this tragedy,” she said in a written statement.
Colonna, who was on a planned visit to the Ukrainian’s capital Kyiv on Monday, later called the tragedy “a crime” to reporters.
She said she talked to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and asked him to do “everything” to allow the journalist’s body to be returned to France as soon as possible. She said the investigation on the circumstances of the death in the war zone will be led by Ukrainian authorities.
BFM TV said Leclerc-Imhoff was accompanied by a male colleague who was lightly injured. A Ukrainian woman who was working with them was not hit.
Earlier Monday, the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, announced Leclerc-Imhoff’s death in a Telegram post, saying that Russian forces fired on an armored vehicle that was traveling to pick up people for evacuation.
“Shrapnel from the shells pierced the vehicle’s armor, fatally wounding an accredited French journalist in the neck who was reporting on the evacuation. The patrol officer was saved by his helmet,” he wrote.
As a result of the attack, the evacuation was called off, Haidai said.
He posted an image of Leclerc-Imhoff’s Ukrainian press accreditation, and images of what he said was the aftermath of the attack.
Haidai said Leclerc-Imhoff’s body was evacuated to the nearby Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut and will be taken to the central city of Dnipro for an autopsy.
He said the patrol officer accompanying the vehicle was hit by shrapnel in the head and taken to a military hospital.
The head of Ukraine’s National Journalist Union, Serhiy Tomilenko, speaking to AP, said officials are discussing how to repatriate his body to France, “which in the conditions of military activity and constant shelling is not so easy to do.”
“Journalists are paying with their lives for the right to know the truth about what is happening in the war in Ukraine,” he said.
The head of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, said that “from the beginning of the war we have noticed that the journalists, and other citizens of course, civilians, are targeted by Russian forces.”
According to Deloire, Leclerc-Imhoff was heading to the Donbas region on a humanitarian bus which was going to pick up people and evacuate them.
Several Ukrainian and foreign journalists have been killed since February, including another French national, veteran videographer Pierre Zakrzewski, 55.
Zakrzewski, who also had Irish citizenship, and 24-year-old Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, both working for Fox News, were killed when their vehicle came under fire outside of Kyiv on March 14.
AP Journalists Angela Charlton, Nicolas Garriga and Catherine Gaschka in Paris, and Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, contributed to the story.