Parents of Slain Ukrainian Journalist Sue Fox News, Alleging ‘Negligent Conduct’

Kevin Hagen/GETTY
Kevin Hagen/GETTY

On the two-year anniversary of the attack in Ukraine that left journalist Oleksha “Sasha” Kuvshynova dead, her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Thursday against Fox News that alleges the network engaged in “reckless and negligent conduct” that put their daughter in harm’s way.

Just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Kuvshynova—who was contracted by the network as a producer and interpreter—accompanied photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewski and Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall on a war reporting trip outside Kyiv. Their car was hit by a Russian shell, killing Kuvshynova and Zakrzewski while leaving Hall seriously injured.

According to the complaint, the network is accused of pressuring its reporting team to travel into a hazardous region despite warnings from locals and security consultants, leaving the crew vulnerable to attack. Kuvshynova’s parents claim that Fox News attempted to cover up its culpability after the incident, alleging that the network launched “a campaign of material misrepresentations and omissions to hide its own accountability for the disaster and shift blame” to security adviser Shane Thomson, who has also joined the lawsuit.

Besides Fox News and its corporate and network executives, the complaint also names Hall as a defendant, claiming he “wrote or adopted a false account of the death” of Kuvshynova in his memoir Saved: A War Reporter's Mission to Make It Home, which was published last year. “Though named as a party-defendant, Hall may, on information and belief, be more properly aligned in this litigation as a party-plaintiff victim of Fox Defendants’ wrongful conduct,” the lawsuit adds.

In recent days, Hall has appeared on Fox News to commemorate the second anniversary of the attack while reflecting on his own near-death experience. “The most important part of today is remembering those who didn't come back,” Hall said on Fox & Friends Thursday morning. “We have to remember the work they were doing, the things they were passionate about.”

“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 Media said in response to the lawsuit. “The safety of our journalists has always been our number one priority and we are immensely grateful to the FOX News reporters who have covered the war in Ukraine and we remain committed to reporting from the region.”

An investigation by the lawyers for Thomson and Kuvshynova’s parents alleges that Fox News refused to heed warnings about the dangers of traveling into Irpin on March 14, 2022. A day before the attack on the Fox News crew, the mayor of Irpin had banned reporters from the city after journalist Brent Renaud was killed amid enemy fire. Thomson, a consultant who was contracted to the network by security firm SEPAR, also claims he warned against going into the area. (The attack actually occurred in the town of Horenka, which is right next to Irpin.)

The lawsuit claims that the reporting team was pushed to go into the region, even though they were forced to find another driver because their regular driver “refused” to take the crew due to the potentially perilous situation. Thomson also claims that once they arrived in the suburb, he was left behind once the crew met up with Ukrainian soldiers, who only had room in their vehicle for the journalists and they did not want another car trailing them. “The absence of the security contractor was vital, as the crew made fatal mistakes,” the lawsuit adds.

Fox News reporter Trey Yingst, who was also embedded in Ukraine, appeared on Fox & Friends the same day as Renaud’s death. He noted that the network had been following all security protocols for journalists, though he added that “the frontlines are changing all the time” in that specific area, and Russian control of some regions of the city was in constant flux.

Following the attack, which left Kuvshynova “burned to ashes inside” the vehicle, the lawsuit alleges that the network engaged in a cover-up about the circumstances leading up to her death. Kuvshynova’s father, for instance, says that the network offered him a compensation package that included his daughter’s back pay, life insurance coverage, and funeral expenses in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement.

Thomson claims that his association with “the Fox News disaster of being security advisor for the crew that was killed in Irpin the day after journalists were banned from the area” has resulted in him being unable to find work, leading him to become suicidal. He also accuses Fox News of forcing him to transport Zakrzewski’s body across the Polish border, compounding his trauma. (The lawsuit also claims Zakrzewski’s widow reached a wrongful death settlement with the network.)

“He was severely traumatized by the combined experience of his colleagues being killed, transporting the dead body of his friend, and then being dismissed,” the complaint claims. “Shane reached out to Fox repeatedly for assistance with the trauma. Fox never responded, even after Shane attempted suicide by hanging.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the network attempted to “shift blame” on Thomson by having Fox News employees spread rumors that he had a drinking problem at the time of the attack and “that this was the cause of the disastrous assignment in which Pierre and Sasha were killed.”

In an interview with NPR, the family’s attorney, Stephen Humphreys, said that the “task of carrying Pierre out of Ukraine really weighed on [Thomson] in a very bad way.” Humphreys also said “it’s time for Fox to come clean for” Kuvshynova, adding that the “thing that's most important for the Kuvshynovas, when they think about their daughter, is that this doesn't ever happen to anybody else again.”

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