Filmmaker Brent Renaud taken on September 20, 2007, at an event celebrating the premier of the documentary Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later. Photo credit: Michael Kimber on Wikimedia Commons

U.S. journalist documenting refugee crisis killed by Russian troops at Ukraine checkpoint

3 mins read

Amidst a territory and world carefully dividing among allegiances, a U.S. citizen is killed on foreign ground.

While on assignment in the conflict torn country, U.S based journalist Brent Renaud was shot in Irpin, a town outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The 50-year-old was working on a TIME magazine’s Studios project centering the global refugee crisis. 

While filming refugees leaving an area in town, the crew of documentarians including Renaud were offered a ride to another bridge according to his wounded colleague and Colombian-American photographer Juan Arredondo. 

In a video from Okhmatdyt hospital where he was being treated, the Columbia Journalism School adjunct professor says they came across a checkpoint. Once they passed, the Russian military began shooting at them. At that point, Arredondo claims the driver turned around but Renaud had already been shot in the neck. Subsequently, he was left behind. 

There is no police record to substantiate his claims. 

Ukrainian police posted a picture of Renaud’s body and passport as evidence of his death. On Facebook, Kyiv region police head Andriy Nebitov expressed how occupants are starting to kill international media trying to “tell the truth” in unveiling the Federation’s atrocities in their nation.

Notably, Renaud was a 2015 Peabody and DuPont award winner. To add, he was an award-winning and nominated filmmaker. Media and entertainment was a family affair as the Nieman Fellow took up journalism as his brother Craig became a film director. 

Poignantly, the Memphis native was also an American citizen. Important to note because U.S president Joseph Biden expressed that consequences would ensue for the largest country in the world, if Americans or their allies were crossed. 

“We are not seeking direct confrontation with Russia, though I have been clear that if Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully,” remarked President Biden on February 15. “And if Russia attacks the United States or our Allies through asymmetric means . . . we are prepared to respond.”

While some see the event as a political play, others question the motives; especially since authoritarian countries tend to frown upon free press and their operatives. Namely, journalists. Hence, it may have been Renaud’s career that sealed his fate.

| Read: Racism in war. Womena, children and white men only on Ukraine trains

Nebitov continued in his Facebook post, “Of course, journalism carries risks, but the US citizen Brent Renaud paid with his life for an attempt to shed light on how underhand[ed], cruel, and merciless the aggressor is.”

Although the first foreign-born fatality, Renaud’s death is not the first media member to be hurt while covering the current crisis. Fox News U.K. correspondent Benjamin Hall was injured outside. Moreover, local Live camera operator Yevhenii Sakun, 49, was killed as a result of Russian forces bombing the Ukrianian television station according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) non-profit earlier this month. 

Consequently, the CPJ and other press freedom groups as well as world leaders have condemned Renaud’s murder as a violation of international law, calling on the international community to denounced said violence. Among them, U.S. House Intelligence Committee head Rep. Adam Schiff domestically, to U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson overseas

Since casualties from nations abroad have now been seen, dissenters like Ukrainian Parliament member and Voice political party deputy head Inna Sovsun or MP  have questioned the next steps of world leaders such as Biden. Most importantly, questioning when something will be done

“[Russian state officials] open fire on journalists, doctors, pregnant women, children, civilians. This is the war against the whole civilized world,” asserted Sovsun on Twitter.

“Today, #[R]ussian troops killed American journalist Brent Renaud. I’m sure he is not [Russian president Valdmiri Putin]’s first or last American’s victim. So what will be the response? And most importantly when?”

Presidents Biden nor Putin had a response at press time. 

Freedom of speech and press have long been pillars of democracy as well as targets during wartime. Without freedom to express opinions, who knows what the media would turn into or who it can benefit in what ways. Despite opinions, a free media without the threat of harm is necessary.

As talks of possible world war and nuclear deal resurgences arise, this may be more vital than ever. “It is essential that journalists are able to safely cover this ongoing invasion and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” expressed TIME in a press statement on Renaud.

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