Two Associated Press journalists documenting the siege of Mariupol in Ukraine said on Monday that they were on a Russian hit list.
Before fleeing, Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka were the last two international journalists in the port city, which has been barraged by Russian forces since they invaded in late February. Dozens of people have been left dead, injured, or missing in Mariupol, a focal point of Russia's assault.
"The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in," Chernov, an AP videographer who spent 20 days in Mariupol, said in a first-person account of his experience covering the war alongside Maloletka, a photographer.
Chernov said during his time reporting in Mariupol he had witnessed mass graves, bodies in the streets, and people dying at hospitals. Their harrowing escape was aided by Ukrainian soldiers ordered to help the journalists.
"We had been documenting [the] siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks," Chernov said. "We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.
"Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: 'Where are the journalists, for f***’s sake?' I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. 'We’re here to get you out,' they said."
Chernov recalled crossing 15 Russian checkpoints to evacuate the city before reaching safety.
"We were the last journalists in Mariupol," he said. "Now there are none."
Prior to the war, Foreign Policy magazine reported that US intelligence services had obtained information that there was a list of Ukrainian politicians, activists, and Russian and Belarusian dissidents that Russia would target if they invaded Ukraine.
The Kremlin denied US media reports that Moscow has drawn up a list of Ukrainians to capture or kill in the event of an invasion, Reuters reported on February 21.
Michael Starr contributed to this report.