NEW YORK (AP) — Instinct about the strategic importance of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol led a team of Associated Press reporters there just as the Russians were about to lay siege. This proved to be a fateful decision.
For nearly three weeks last year, Mstislav Chernov, Evgeny Maloletka and Vassilya Stepanenko were the only journalists in Mariupol, serving as the world’s eyes and ears amid the horrors of the Russian assault.
Together they helped highlight the suffering of the Ukrainian people, served as a counterweight to Russian disinformation, and contributed to the opening of a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol. He also had to avoid capture by Kremlin forces who were hunting for the team.
On Monday, Pulitzer Prize judges cited the work of three Ukrainian journalists, along with Paris-based Lori Hinnant, in awarding The Associated Press the prestigious prize for public service.
Seven AP photographers, including Maloetka, also won breaking news Pulitzers for their coverage of the battle, including Mariupol. AP was also a finalist for a third award for work in Ukraine, this time for photography focused on the effects of war on veterans.
“That’s how AP should work,” Chernov said Monday during an award ceremony for employees from Ukraine. “That’s how we function. All these people supporting each other and end up doing something that’s going to change the world for the better or at least not make it worse.
AP senior vice president and executive editor Julie Pace said although the awards are meaningful, it’s important to recognize all the sadness and loss at the heart of what journalists write.
The reporting, especially the heart-wrenching images of civilian bomb victims, had a clear impact. Mariupol officials later credited his work with pressuring the Russians to allow an evacuation route, which saved thousands of civilian lives.
His resourceful act, called “daring” by the Pulitzer committee, included sneaking a small file of images taken by a Ukrainian medic hidden in a tampon.
At one point during the siege, as the noose tightened on them, Chernov and his aides were reporting from a hospital wounded in battle. They were given scrubs to wear as camouflage. A group of soldiers burst in and, cursing, demanded to know where the reporters were.
He wore blue armbands to indicate he was Ukrainian. But were they really Russians in disguise?
Chernov took a chance, went ahead and made his mark.
The soldiers were actually Ukrainian. They loaded the journalists into a car and they fled the city, passing through 15 Russian checkpoints.
Pace said it is not an exaggeration to say that the work was a true public service – telling the world of the human toll of war, dispelling Russian disinformation as well as opening a humanitarian corridor.
“It was as ambitious from the start as it had to be, because the stakes were so high for us, for AP, for the team in Mariupol and for the people of the city,” Hinnant said on a staff Zoom call on Monday. We thought then that lives would depend on it, and it turned out to be true.”
Maloletka, his second Pulitzer of the day, was included on the AP team that won the award for breaking news photography in Ukraine. Other winners were Bernat Armangue, Emilio Morenetti, Felipe Dana, Nariman El-Mofti, Rodrigo Abd and Vadim Ghirda.
Eight photographers – Maloletka, Armangue, Morenetti, El-Mofty, Girda, David Goldman, Natacha Pisarenko and Petros Giankouris – were Pulitzer finalists in feature photography for their packages on the elderly in Ukraine. Two journalists, Eranga Jayawardene and Rafiq Maqbool, were finalists in breaking news photography for their work covering protests over the economic collapse in Sri Lanka.
“Being there is probably more important and more important than ever. You can’t create the moment that captivates the world if you’re not there, and being there is often dirty and difficult and dangerous,” AP Photography said J David Eck, director of the
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