Little would be known of the siege of Mariupol, but for two AP journalists braving the Russian offensive.
Each airstrike and artillery shell that falls on Mariupol — about one a minute — drives home the curse of its geography. The southeastern Ukrainian city on the Sea of Azov is under siege by Russian forces, its surrounding roads mined, its port blocked by the Russian navy. Food, water and electricity are scarce or practically nonexistent.
Two courageous AP journalists, Germany-based video journalist Mstyslav Chernov and Kyiv photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, have been out in the streets, day in and day out, virtually alone in chronicling the city’s fall into chaos, despair and utter isolation, and the suffering of the civilian population.
Both men are Ukrainian, know the country well, and are international award-winning visual journalists for AP. They teamed up in 2020 to chronicle the desperate fight against COVID in Ukraine. And at the start of the current war with Russia, they functioned as a mobile team in the east of the country, eventually landing in Mariupol to cover the intense battle there.
Driving a van with windows blown out by explosions, snatching a bit of battery power where they can to file videos and photos, and checking in during rare moments when there’s enough of a network signal, Maloletka and Chernov have been the world’s only eyes on a city that is key to Russia’s war in Ukraine — and Ukraine’s desperate attempt to fight back. In the early weeks of the war, taking the city of 400,000 has become a key strategic goal of the Russian military campaign, a way to open a land corridor from Russian-separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine to the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula.
The pair’s images and words have riveted the world’s attention. The scenes are heart-wrenching, but it is impossible to look away.
Chernov and Maloletka were in the hospital room when a 6-year-old mortally injured in Russian shelling drew her last breath. A doctor in blue medical scrubs, pumping oxygen into her, looked straight at the camera. “Show this to Putin,” he said angrily. “The eyes of this child and crying doctors.”
After this week’s award was decided, they continued their breathtaking coverage, showing the shocking bombing of a maternity hospital this week and the interring of civilians casualties in a mass grave. Those exclusive images won play on front pages everywhere.
For harrowing reporting from a besieged city that would go unseen without their unflinching courage, we are honored to award AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner to Chernov and Maloletka.