PARIS (AP) — Colleagues of Arman Soldin, the Agence France-Presse journalist slain in Ukraine, gathered solemnly at the press agency’s Paris headquarters on Wednesday, a day after his death, to remember the 32-year old.
A widely broadcast photo of Soldin, pictured in protective gear and smiling broadly with a cat on his shoulder, has plucked at the heartstrings of the French nation.
“Arman was so enthusiastic, so energetic, so alive that it seems unreal to be here and talk about it this morning,” said Juliette Hollier-Larousse, the agency’s deputy news director.
Soldin, who was working as the Ukraine video coordinator, was killed in a Grad rocket attack near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. He was with a team of AFP journalists traveling with Ukrainian soldiers when the group came under fire. The rest of the team escaped uninjured.
The Paris prosecutors’ office, which handles counterterrorism cases, said Wednesday evening that it was launching an inquiry into war crimes over the journalist’s death.
At the editorial meeting, AFP news director Phil Chetwynd said that the shock reverberated across the whole company, saying that “Arman was someone who is loved by his colleagues.”
“To lose him in these circumstances is incredibly painful for all of us,” Chetwynd said, even though ”we all know the risks.”
Chetwynd said the logistical priority now was to return Soldin’s body to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, so “we can safely take it out of the country and return it home to his family.”
He added: “It’s just something we never, ever want to have to contact the family about. It goes to some of our worst fears and concerns. So really, all our thoughts are with his family today.”
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said in a Telegram update that Soldin was killed near Chasiv Yar, a western suburb of the embattled city of Bakhmut.
Russian forces have been trying to capture the city for nine months, making Bakhmut the focus of the war’s longest battle.
“I sympathize with the family and friends of the journalist and thank all who, risking their own lives, continue to tell the truth about our war,” Kyrylenko said.
Tributes have come from far and wide for the Sarajevo-born journalist, who lived for many years in France. Denis Becirovic, a member of the Bosnian presidency, called him “a journalist dedicated to his profession” who “since the beginning of Russian aggression on Ukraine bravely reported to the public about events from this country.”
Becirovic also called Arman’s death “a painful reminder to dangers posed to journalists and media workers in areas caught up in war.”
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna paid a brief but emotional tribute to Soldin while speaking to reporters Wednesday.
“I remember him…” she said, pausing before continuing. “I don’t want to say things that are too personal, but he notably covered my last visit to Kyiv. I want to pay homage not only to his courage, but to the work that you do, which is indispensable for us to know the reality of the facts, for us to know the truth of what is happening in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
Max Blain, spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, paid tribute to Soldin’s work in Ukraine.
“Journalism continues to shine a light in the darkness of this war and Arman’s work was vital to that. Any death in this needless invasion is tragic and our thoughts remain with all those who have lost loved ones during this conflict,” he said.
In May 2022, French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff, who was working in Ukraine for BFM-TV, was killed near Sievierodonetsk in the east.
At least 10 media workers have been killed while covering the war in Ukraine, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine