MOSCOW (AP) — Two Russian journalists for a Russian state-owned TV channel died Tuesday in eastern Ukraine after being hit by mortar fire, the Rossiya 24 network said.
Correspondent Igor Kornelyuk, 37, died during surgery in a hospital after being wounded while on assignment in Luhansk. The whereabouts of the sound engineer who was with him were unknown throughout the day, but in late evening the network announced that Anton Voloshin had been confirmed dead as well.
Russian officials expressed indignation over the deaths. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the Ukrainian government should be held responsible, while Russia’s federal investigative agency announced the opening of a criminal case.
Viktor Denisov, a cameraman working with Kornelyuk, said in a television broadcast that they were filming Ukrainian refugees fleeing the area north of the regional capital when mortar fire began. Denisov was not next to Kornelyuk when he was wounded.
Before the announcement of Voloshin’s death, the Paris-based media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said Kornelyuk was the fourth journalist to be killed in Ukraine since the start of the year.
“The violence affecting journalists in Ukraine is reaching unprecedented levels. We again call on the belligerents to do whatever is necessary to protect journalists as required by international law,” said Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk for the France-based organization.
The deaths of the journalists prompted the divided U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds veto power, to issue its first statement on Ukraine’s crisis. The council offered condolences to the families of the journalists killed and called for a thorough investigation into violence against media workers. The statement also noted the deaths of an Italian photojournalist and his Russian interpreter on May 24.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expressed condolences to the families of the Russian journalists and ordered an investigation of the circumstances of their deaths.
What is known about the deaths, Sergeyev said, is that Tuesday morning a group of “terrorists” attacked Ukrainian law enforcement troops near Luhansk. He said the troops responded, and in the fighting, 10 “terrorists” were killed and many injured. Only at the hospital was it determined that Kornulyuk was a Russian journalist, the ambassador said.
“It is not clear if he entered Ukraine legally or not, but he didn’t follow the instructions to all the journalists to be accredited,” to be identified as journalists, and to wear armored vests and helmets, Sergeyev told reporters.
“They didn’t follow that so they performed at their own risks,” he said.
The deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia separatist rebels and the government in Kiev has been raging for nearly two months. On Monday, Poroshenko pledged to propose a peace plan this week to bring a cease-fire to the east, but said the porous border with Russia had to be secured first.
Ukraine accuses Russia of supporting the rebels, and the United States and NATO say tanks and other heavy weapons have crossed from Russia into the hands of rebels in Ukraine.
Russia has denied sending any weapons or troops, and the rebels said the few tanks they had were seized from Ukrainian forces.
Cash-strapped Ukraine was due to receive 500 million euros ($680 million) on Tuesday from the European Union to help stabilize the country and shore up its ailing economy. EU Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said the loan was “a further concrete sign of European solidarity.”
The money from the 28-nation bloc is part of a wider EU package aimed at helping Ukraine reform its economy to boost growth and increase jobs.
The EU sent Ukraine 100 million euros ($1.35 million) last month and has another 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) lined up for it, provided Ukraine meets milestones on economic and financial reforms.
Associated Press writers Juergen Baetz in Brussels, Elaine Ganley in Paris and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
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