He is one of at least eight journalists killed doing their job during Russia’s nearly four-month war in Ukraine, Reporters Without Borders said.
The press freedom group, known by its French initials as RSF, sent two investigators to Ukraine to collect evidence about Levin’s death on the northern outskirts of Kyiv.
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The investigation, including at the site of Levin’s burned-out car, indicated that the two men “were executed in cold blood by Russian forces, probably after being interrogated and tortured,” RSF said on Wednesday, citing photos, testimonies, bullets that you collected from the site and other information you gathered.
“The evidence against the Russian forces is overwhelming,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
Levin, 40, who is survived by four young children as well as his wife and parents, had covered the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region since 2014.
He wanted to be a photographer from the age of 15, according to the Ukrainian online media outlet LB.ua, where he had worked. His colleagues recalled that Levin once said: “Every Ukrainian photographer dreams of taking a picture that will stop the war.”
Following its findings, RSF said it “has not been able to answer all the questions” that remained, but detailed two evidence-based scenarios and hoped its reconstruction of events could one day lead to the perpetrators.
RSF said it counted 14 bullet marks on the car and recovered the identity documents of Levin’s friend, Ukrainian soldier Oleksiy Chernyshov, whose body was burned. A can of gasoline and Levin’s helmet were nearby.
Photos from April showed a bullet to the photographer’s chest and two to the head, the investigation report added. He said the two were likely looking for Levin’s camera drone when they were killed.
A Ukrainian search team discovered a bullet buried in the ground where Levin’s body was found and detected what was a Russian position some 230 feet in the woods, which they could not approach due to the possible presence of explosive devices. RSF said. The findings indicate that the bullets that hit Levin were “fired from very close range when the journalist was already on the ground,” he said.
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The report says that while Levin may have provided footage from his drone to Ukrainian forces on occasion, the use of his equipment was “mostly journalistic in nature.”
The group said it shared evidence with Ukrainian investigators and could not confirm whether authorities had carried out autopsies, which it described as vital to investigating the deaths.
Fighting had gripped the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, near where Levin was reporting, before Russian forces shifted their focus east more recently. His withdrawal revealed evidence of war crimes, such as corpses in the streets, burning and torture. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.
In a post that shared Levin’s work shortly after his death, a Politico reporter described him as both a thoughtful and talented writer.
“He was brave, talented and dedicated to covering this story,” Christopher Miller wrote. “He talked more about peace than war.”
Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.