‘He just never stopped being astonishing with how brave he was,’ says former Dublin classmate
By Sarah Burns, 15 March 2022
An Irish journalist working as a Fox News cameraman, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed by Russian shelling in Ukraine on Monday has been described as a passionate and talented individual with an “indomitable” spirit.
The photographer (55) died alongside Ukrainian journalist and producer, Oleksandra Kuvshynova, after the vehicle they were travelling in with reporter Benjamin Hall was struck by incoming fire, the US broadcaster said.
President Michael D Higgins paid tribute, offering his “deepest sympathies” to the family of Mr Zakrzewski. “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, including journalists, must be brought to an end,” Mr Higgins said in a statement.
Born in August 1966, Mr Zakrzewski was the second-eldest of six children: four boys and two girls. His mother was French and his father was Polish, and the family lived in Leopardstown, Co Dublin. He attended St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge and studied arts in UCD for a time.
A friend and former classmate of cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski has spoken of his indomitable spirit and how he turned his passion for travel and adventure into a career as a cameraman.
Stephen O’Dea told Newstalk Breakfast that Mr Zakrzewski was his “classmate with an exotic name”.
“He was always fun, always driven. He was intrepid. When he left school he wanted to go travelling and to climb Mount Everest and he did that.”
When he climbed Mount Everest he went higher than anyone else without oxygen and helped other climbers who had gotten into distress to descend. “That’s the kind of guy he was. He would prioritise other people.”
During the 1990s when Mr O’Dea lived in London Mr Zakrzewski often stayed with him between trips. On his return from Kashmir he had footage which he hoped would highlight what was happening there.
“He wore the things he did casually.”
Mr O’Dea said that because of the many difficult situations their friend had survived “we thought that he was immune to it ”.
Writing in his school yearbook in 2004, Mr Zakrzewski spoke of the dangers of the job . “I’ve many friends and colleagues who have died so that the world can be better informed,” he wrote, recalling the death of Irish cameraman Simon Cumbers, who was killed in Saudi Arabia earlier that year.
Mr Zakrzewski said he had covered conflicts in Asia, the Middle East and Africa and it was a job that suited his personality – “travel, adventure foreign news and seeing humanity at work”.
“My job as a cameraman is simply to inform the general public so that they can put pressure on politicians to implement change in these wonderful countries,” he wrote.
“It’s difficult to explain the attraction to this way of life, but when you experience the emotional roller coaster of war, both positive and negative, as a cameraman I feel I have a duty to tell their story.”
St Conleth’s College said it was with “great sadness” that it learned of the death of Mr Zakrzewski, who was in the class of 1984.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” the school said in a statement.
Mr Zakrzewski was married to a former BBC journalist and they were based in London for the last 15 years.
Ms Kuvshynova was a local journalist working with the Fox News reporting team. Her death was confirmed by the Ukrainian interior ministry. Fox News announced the attack and Mr Hall’s injury on Monday, saying the reporter “was injured while newsgathering outside of Kyiv in Ukraine”. Mr Zakrzewski and Ms Kuvshinova died “as a result of artillery shelling by Russian troops in the north-eastern part of the village of Gorenka”, kp.ua said.
Mr Hall has been in hospital since the incident which took place on Monday, Fox News said. As a war photographer, Mr Zakrzewski had covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria for Fox, according to Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News Media. “His passion and talent as a journalist were unmatched,” Ms Scott said.
“His talents were vast and there wasn’t a role that he didn’t jump in to help with in the field — from photographer to engineer to editor to producer — and he did it all under immense pressure with tremendous skill.
“He was profoundly committed to telling the story and his bravery, professionalism and work ethic were renowned among journalists at every media outlet.”
Mr Zakrzewski also played a key role last year in getting Afghan freelance associates and their families out of the country after the US withdrawal, winning the Unsung Hero prize at the Fox News annual employee Spotlight Awards, Ms Scott said.
“Today is a heart-breaking day for Fox News Media and for all journalists risking their lives to deliver the news,” she added.
Trey Yingst, a Fox News foreign correspondent, tweeted a picture with Mr Zakrzewski and said: “I don’t know what to say. Pierre was as good as they come. Selfless. Brave. Passionate. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
It comes days after US filmmaker Brent Renaud was killed in Ukraine after Russian forces opened fire on his vehicle. The 50-year-old, from Arkansas, was gathering material for a report about refugees when his vehicle was hit at a checkpoint in Irpin, just outside Kyiv. –Additional reporting AP/Guardian