‘Telling the truth’ was Irish war-reporter’s calling, says Pierre Zakrzewksi’s family

Dubliner’s family remember his ‘no-nonsense’ approach to reporting from war zones

It was the obligation of "telling the truth" and being an eyewitness to conflicts that sent Irish photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewksi into war zones, his mother Marie-Ange Zakrzewska said.

Two days after the Dubliner (55), a war reporter and cameraman with US television channel Fox News, was killed alongside Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova (24) just outside Kyiv in Ukraine, his mother and family reflected on the loss of a man they paint as a "no-nonsense" truth-teller.

Mr Zakrzewksi, a veteran war photojournalist, and the Fox News reporting team he was working with came under artillery fire in their vehicle.

In a phone interview, Marie-Ange said the Arab Spring and the proliferation of images of war and conflict shared on social media drove her son – the second oldest of six children from a south Dublin family – even more in his reporting from war zones.

Pierre's background, born to a Polish father and French mother and raised in Dublin, brought visits to family overseas in his youth

"It wasn't so much the work; it was just telling the truth. He was always on about the truth – he was a no-bullshit man. It was always making sure that the people would be able to tell what they had to tell," his mother told The Irish Times from the family home in Leopardstown.

Pierre's younger brother Nick recalled his work bringing him to "Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Serbia, Afghanistan. the list goes on."

“He got the images out that told the story of how people were affected – no fanfare or palaver,” Nick said.

Marie-Ange said he was occasionally scared during his work. The blurring of the frontline in Ukraine with Russians advancing from different positions brought greater dangers.

“He was human so there were times when he was scared. That was the thing in Ukraine; there were so many different interferences. He never knew. He couldn’t judge who was actually shooting at them. That for him was very different. It was very hard to cope with,” she said.

Pierre’s brothers Nick and Greg said their brother weighed-up and managed the dangers.

“He was a calculated risk-taker. He looked at risks and he worked out the best ways of managing them,” said Nick.

In Ukraine, those risks were harder to manage.

"Somehow the little mental calculations that he has been doing all his life about margins of risk – that has just gone out the window," Greg told RTÉ's Today With Claire Byrne.

Visits overseas

Pierre’s background, born to a Polish father and French mother and raised in Dublin, brought visits to family overseas in his youth. This, in turn, cultivated a love of travel which, along with an interest in photography, “evolved” into photojournalism and war reporting, said his mother.

She saw his attendance at St Conleth's College, the secondary school in Ballsbridge, Dublin, as a great match: the school offered independence to her free-spirited son: "Whenever you told Pierre you mustn't do this, he would do it in the next few minutes," she said.

He studied economics for a time in UCD but never finished the course, opting later to study television and audio operations at Ballyfermot College of Further Education in the mid-1990s.

Like the people he reported on in Ukraine, Pierre's grandfather and father were refugees too

Pierre, who lived in London with his wife Michelle for the past 15 years, kept in regular contact with family from his travels via satellite telephones and WhatsApp where he had internet access. The calls to the family home in Dublin could come at any time of day or night.

“Hey Mum, don’t worry,” he regularly told his mother on calls.

Regardless of where he was in the world, he always maintained contact with family and friends and travelled back for family occasions – including with his other siblings Zosia, Stas and Karola – and to catch up with nieces and nephews who “all adored him,” said his brother Nick.

Pierre was proudly Irish and being from a neutral country helped navigate difficult situations in war zones. “He wasn’t American; he wasn’t English . . . that helped,” said his mother.

“He was Irish and there was no argument about it,” she said.

It bothered him when his name confused people about his nationality. “Don’t start asking me where I am really from,” he would say. “That used to annoy him no end,” said Marie-Ange.

Humanity

The nature of his work also brought out a humanity in the Dubliner.

While reporting from Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24th, he and his colleagues found a baby in the street near Kyiv and brought the infant to the nearest hospital.

“He sent us a photograph of the baby they found. They didn’t know whether the parents were dead or alive – that is war,” said Marie-Ange.

Like the people he reported on in Ukraine, Pierre's grandfather and father were refugees too. His grandfather, a gynaecologist in the Polish army, fled Poland at the start of the second World War eventually ending up in Scotland after a two-year journey across Europe. The travels continued with Pierre's father studying architecture at UCD and settling in Dublin. His father designed the Zakrzewksi home in Leopardstown where the family lived from 1968.

Pierre had planned to meet a cousin in Warsaw on his way back from Kyiv. Now his Polish family will help repatriate his remains to Dublin from war-torn Ukraine.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

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