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Family of slain Ukrainian reporter accuses Fox News of negligence by ignoring warnings to stay out of a war zone, according to new lawsuit

Lloyd Lee   

Family of slain Ukrainian reporter accuses Fox News of negligence by ignoring warnings to stay out of a war zone, according to new lawsuit
  • Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova died in Ukraine in 2022 while helping Fox News report on the war.
  • Her parents filed a lawsuit against Fox News, accusing the news outlet of the wrongful death of Sasha.

The family of Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova, a 24-year-old Ukrainian journalist who died while reporting on the war in Ukraine on March 14, 2022, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Fox News on Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court by Kuvshynova's parents and Shane Thomson, a security advisor for SEPAR, a UK-based security agency that was contracted at the time by Fox News.

The suit accuses the news organization of neglect, saying it took a crew of journalists employed and contracted by Fox News into an active war zone despite multiple warnings from local officials and a security consultant who advised them against doing so.

Andriy Kuvshynov, Sasha's father, had concerns about whether his daughter had been needlessly endangered soon after her death. In 2022, he told Business Insider: "I don't understand how a decision was taken for Fox News to go where it was dangerous, where there was a live threat."

"It was so scary round there," he continued. "Why did they end up there?"

The attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kuvshynova's parents did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI.

Lawsuit accuses Fox News of misrepresenting details about Kuvshynova's death

Several other people in the same crew as Kuvshynova were also killed in the March 14 assignment, including Pierre Zakrzewski, a veteran Fox News cameraman.

The lawsuit, filed on the second anniversary of Kuvshynova's death, accuses Fox News and other defendants, including Fox News foreign correspondent Benjamin Hall, of misrepresenting the circumstances around Kuvshynova's death by omitting details of the warnings to journalists to stay out of the conflict area.

Hall was a member of the same Fox News team that entered the war zone. He was seriously injured as a result of the assignment.

On the first anniversary of Kuvshynova's death, Hall published a book titled "Saved" with HarperCollins, which recounts his journey into and back out of the Ukrainian war zone. In the lawsuit, Kuvshynova's family alleges that the book contains a "false account" of her death. The lawsuit also accuses Fox of promoting the book "for the purpose of deceiving Sasha's parents and the public about Fox's wrongful conduct and accountability for Sasha's death."

"The actual circumstances of Sasha's death — which contradict the official accounts given by Fox, Ben Hall, and Harper Collins — were only uncovered through investigation by their counsel almost two years later," the lawsuit alleges. "New information and new contradictions, are still being uncovered to this day."

HarperCollins is included as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Hall is also included as a defendant, but Kuvshynova's attorneys acknowledged in the lawsuit that he may be more "properly aligned in this litigation as a party-plaintiff victim of Fox Defendants' wrongful conduct."

HarperCollins and Hall, each contacted outside working hours, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from BI.

A spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately respond to Business Insider's detailed questions but released a statement.

"While we understand the grief and continue to mourn the loss of both Pierre Zakrzewski and Sasha Kuvshynova, we will respectfully defend against the inaccurate claims within this lawsuit," Fox News said in the statement. "The safety of our journalists has always been our number one priority, and we are immensely grateful to the Fox News journalists who have covered the war in Ukraine and we remain committed to reporting from the region."

The warnings

An "overworked" and "understaffed" crew for Fox News remained in Kyiv as Russian forces began pushing toward the outskirts of the capital in March 2022, the lawsuit alleges.

Kuvshynova was hired in January as an independent contractor to act as a "guide and translator" for the Fox News team, court documents said.

The lawsuit alleges there is no evidence of Kuvshynova being paid for the two months she was with Fox News and no evidence that she was hired in accordance with local Ukrainian law.

The Fox News crew received multiple warnings to avoid Irpin, a town northwest of Kyiv, and the adjacent suburb of Hostomel, the lawsuit alleges. Both areas were being occupied by Russian forces, and where Ukrainian soldiers were launching a counterattack by March 13, 2022.

Despite how close Russian forces were to the two towns and the towns' proximity to Kyiv, where Fox News' teams were based, "Fox left the news crew in place" without the "evaluation, monitoring, and vetting of story assignments" normally performed by producers, the lawsuit alleges. The suit alleges that Fox management made the decision to pull producers out of Kyiv "because the city was considered too dangerous."

The warnings, according to the lawsuit, included one from Irpin's mayor, who issued a ban on all foreign journalists from entering the area after Brent Renaud, a US journalist and filmmaker, was killed by Russian fire on March 13, 2022.

Another warning came a day before from Shane Thomson, a co-plaintiff in the suit and a security consultant for SEPAR, which Fox News contracted to provide security for the team, according to the lawsuit.

"Shane vetoed the idea to go into Irpin on March 13, 2022, on the night of the March 12, 2022, due to information from a former military colleague fighting with Ukrainian forces in Bucha and Irpin, as the source said do not to go into or near Irpin for the next few days as Russian forces were scattered inside Irpin and Ukrainian forces were actively targeting anyone that wasn't a refugee escaping the conflict area," the lawsuit alleges. "Information passed along was that Russian forces were posing as media crews."

On the day of Renaud's death, Trey Yingst, a Fox News correspondent who was also in Kyiv, described the imminent dangers their journalists faced while reporting from the field.

"While we were in this town of Irpin on Friday, there were Russian shells landing all around the neighborhood," Yingst said on "Fox News & Friends," referring to reporting Fox News did that predated the assignment Sasha was on.

Yingst also said the checkpoints in the area were constantly evolving as the front lines were "changing all the time."

The team heads to Irpin

Still, the Fox News team decided to head to the Irpin-Hostomel area on March 14. The crew found a different driver after their initial driver refused to go into the area, the lawsuit alleges.

The Fox News team eventually entered the area with an escort by two of Ukraine's Assault Brigade Azov soldiers, the lawsuit said.

Another security consultant from SEPAR, Duncan Gordon, stayed behind at an Azov rendezvous point because there wasn't enough room in the car, the lawsuit alleges, meaning the crew would not have an expert to asses risk in real time or provide basic first aid.

Led by Hall, the Fox News correspondent, the reporters took footage of the decimated village of Horenka, just east of Irpin. The lawsuit alleges that Zakrzewski had a satellite phone that allowed him to stay in contact with Fox management.

As the team of reporters made their way back on the main road to Kyiv in their vehicle, the crew stopped, and then "two explosive rounds hit near it," the lawsuit alleges.

"As some of the crew scurried out of the car to escape the clear and present danger, a third round hit the car, with Sasha inside," the lawsuit alleges. "The car caught fire, and Sasha was burned to ashes inside it, causing her death."

Zakrzewski escaped the car but bled to death on the side of the road, according to the lawsuit. Hall was found "grievously injured at the side of the road" and later evacuated by Ukrainian soldiers, per the suit.

The aftermath

Fox News said it knew the crew's location; the lawsuit contests that claim, saying a search for the "missing crew" was launched on March 14 after Halls' team did not return to Kyiv.

"Our security team knew exactly where they were. We knew where we dropped them off, where they were going, and where they ended up," a Fox News spokesperson told BI in 2022.

In the lawsuit, lawyers for Kuvshynova's parents accused Fox News of failing to explain why the crew pursued an assignment that was prohibited by Ukrainian authorities.

The suit accuses Fox News of violating "any reasonable standard of care in allowing the team to proceed" into the active war zone.

To this day, Fox News continues to withhold information about Kuvshynova's death, the lawsuit alleges.

Mia Jankowicz contributed to this report.

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