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“Putin’s Attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes”

Excellence in National/International Investigative Reporting, the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize

FRONTLINE | The Associated Press, 2023

Author(s): Thomas Jennings, Annie Wong and Staff | FRONTLINE , Erika Kinetz and Staff | The Associated Press


Seasoned investigative journalists from FRONTLINE and The Associated Press documented possible war crimes in the decimated northern Kyiv suburb of Bucha, providing evidence that could be used to build a case against Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders in the world court. 

From FRONTLINE’S award-winning director Tom Jennings, producer Annie Wong, AP global investigative reporter Erika Kinetz and her AP colleagues, the documentary chronicles how Russian forces and their leaders targeted civilians in Bucha during the weeks after the initial invasion. 

The documentary relied on exclusive footage, interviews with Ukrainian citizens and prosecutors, top government officials and international war crimes experts, as well as a vast amount of previously unpublished evidence obtained and verified by the AP. The evidence included hundreds of hours of surveillance camera videos and thousands of audio recordings of intercepted phone calls made by Russian soldiers around Kyiv. 

The documentary also included detailed forensic analysis and a 3D model to help illustrate the scope of the killings in Bucha. 

The collaborative team of investigative journalists made three trips to the war zone over a five-month period. They remotely gathered and verified attacks on civilians as they occurred, assembling a library of alleged atrocities. The team also vetted social media posts and reports, photographs and videos from onsite correspondents.  

These journalists used internationally recognized standards for collecting and cataloging evidence. About two months after the documentary’s premiere, the resulting database had collected nearly 600 potential war crimes. The work is ongoing.  

As they assembled the database, the on-the-ground film team focused on Bucha, where more atrocities came to light as Russian forces pulled out of the city after a monthlong occupation. 

The documentary provided in-depth historical and geo-political context on what constitutes a war crime. It also included compelling profiles of the victims and reported on the details of the investigations into what happened to them during the initial invasion and occupation. The team recorded and recounted stories from witnesses to the atrocities, backing up the personal accounts with photo and video documentation captured by AP journalists in the aftermath of Russia’s pullout. 

The FRONTLINE film team also used cutting-edge, open-source investigation techniques. The journalists analyzed satellite and drone imagery, acquired thousands of hours of CCTV footage and intercepted telecommunications. Combined, the resource material provided documentation of Russian soldiers’ “cleansing operations,” as well as audio of soldiers describing their orders to track down and kill Bucha civilians.  

The joint documentary captured the devastation of the war in Ukraine and the pursuit for accountability. FRONTLINE and the AP excelled with reporting that was exhaustive and impactful. 

The Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize
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Ursula and Dr. Gilbert Farfel created an endowed scholarship at Ohio University, Ursula’s alma mater, to support establishment of this award. Presented in cooperation with the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, the prize honors excellence in investigative reporting.