A French journalist has been killed after he was hit by shell shrapnel while covering a Ukrainian evacuation operation.
Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, who worked for 24-hour news channel BFMTV, was on the road to Lysychansk near the eastern city of Severodonetsk in Luhansk, Ukraine, when the strike happened.
BFMTV said the 32-year-old reporter was covering the humanitarian operation in an armoured vehicle and was the “victim of shrapnel”.
His colleague Maxime Brandstaetter was slightly injured in the incident, while their ‘fixer’ Oksana Leuta was unhurt.
It was the second time Mr Leclerc-Imhoff had reported in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, which began on 24 February.
BFMTV said he was a graduate of the Institute of Journalism Bordeaux Aquitaine and had worked for the channel for six years.
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An intense battle is going on for Severodonetsk – a key city – with Russian forces entering the outskirts and pushing towards nearby Lysychansk, said Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the reporter was in the conflict-torn country to show the “reality of the war”.
“To those who carry out the difficult mission of informing in theatres of operations, I would like to reiterate France’s unconditional support,” Mr Macron tweeted.
Mr Macron said he shared the “pain of the family, relatives and colleagues” of Mr Leclerc-Imhoff, to whom he sent his condolences.
French foreign minister Catherine Colonna said the journalist’s death was “deeply shocking” and that France demanded a “transparent investigation be undertaken as soon as possible”.
Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said the reporter suffered a “fatal wound to the neck”.
Writing on the Telegram messaging service, Mr Haidai added that shrapnel pierced an armoured vehicle and the evacuation effort had to be halted.
A policeman was saved by his helmet.
Mr Haidai wrote: “Today our armoured evacuation vehicle was going to pick up 10 people from the area and came under enemy fire.
“Shrapnel from shells pierced the armour of the car. A fatal wound to the neck was received by an accredited French journalist who was making material about the evacuation.
“A patrol policeman was rescued by a helmet.
“We are officially stopping the evacuation.”
Russian forces are reinforcing their positions in northeastern and southeastern outskirts of Severodonetsk, while bringing in additional equipment and ammunition.
Two civilians were killed and another five wounded in the latest Russian shelling, Mr Haidai added on Monday.
Moscow’s forces are using the “same tactics over and over again”, he commented.
He continued: “They shell for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row and then attack.
“Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again, and so on, until they break through somewhere.”
Severodonetsk serves as Luhansk’s administrative centre. Luhansk and Donetsk comprise the eastern Donbas area, which Vladimir Putin is trying to conquer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country is doing all it can to halt the Russian advance into the city, and described capturing it as a “fundamental task for the occupiers”.
“Some 90% of buildings are damaged,” he added. “More than two-thirds of the city’s housing stock has been completely destroyed.”