Ukrainian journalist ambushed, killed by suspected Russian snipers

 A reporter points at smoke from an airstrike on a hospital, in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. [VOA]

A Ukrainian journalist working with an Italian newspaper was shot dead by suspected Russian snipers in southern Ukraine on Wednesday. His Italian colleague was injured, the paper reported.

“Our correspondent Corrado Zunino and his fixer Bohdan Bitik were victims of an ambush near the bridge in Kherson by Russian snipers on the outskirts of Kherson, in southern Ukraine,” the daily newspaper La Repubblica reported Wednesday in an article on its website.

“Bitik unfortunately did not make it and died; he leaves behind his wife and a son. Corrado, who was wounded in the shoulder, is in the civil hospital in Kherson,” the newspaper said.

The reporters were targeted near the Antonivsky Bridge, which crosses the Dnipro River on the outskirts of Kherson in southern Ukraine, after passing through a series of Ukrainian checkpoints. The journalists reportedly were trying to speak to Ukrainian forces positioned near the bridge.

Russian forces left the western portion of the city last year but still often shell it from the eastern part.

When the men were attacked, both were wearing blue bulletproof vests marked with “PRESS” on the front and back.

“I’m well, I’ve got a wound in my right shoulder, shaved by the bullet that hit my great friend Bohdan,’’ Zunino told La Repubblica. “I saw Bohdan on the ground, he wasn’t moving. I crawled until I got out of the line of fire. I ran until I came across a civilian’s car. I was covered in blood. I got myself taken to the hospital in Kherson.

“I tried several times to call Bohdan. He didn’t answer. He was a great friend of mine; the pain is excruciating,” Zunino said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, urged Kyiv and Moscow to investigate the ambush.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Ukrainian producer Bohdan Bitik and wish Italian reporter Corrado Zunino a speedy recovery,” Gulnoza Said, who works on Ukraine at the CPJ, said in a statement Thursday.

“Russian and Ukrainian authorities must swiftly investigate this tragic attack and ensure that journalists are not targeted while reporting on the war in Ukraine. Members of the press are civilians under international humanitarian law and should be protected as such,” Said continued.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said his ministry and the Italian Embassy in Kyiv were working with Ukrainian authorities to return Zunino to Italy.

The Italian newspaper said the presence of Russian snipers was making it hard to recover Bitik’s body.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Italian media that Russian forces were responsible for the killing.

“Russians don’t care if you’re Russian, Italian or Ukrainian, they just shoot,” he said.

Bitik is at least the 14th journalist killed in Ukraine while reporting on the Russian invasion, according to the CPJ.