A prominent journalist was killed Wednesday in a car explosion in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.
Ukrainian media reported that Pavel Sheremet, 44, a reporter with the country's top online news website Ukrainska Pravda, died when a blast tore through the car he was in as he prepared to go to work. Images from the scene showed a charred vehicle with all four doors open.
The chief of Ukraine's national police, Khatia Dekanoidze, said the blast was being investigated as a homicide and that an explosive device equivalent to 400 to 600 grams of TNT had been used.
The killing of Sheremet, a pro-Western journalist born in Belarus but a Russian citizen, sent shock waves through Ukraine and its journalistic community. Ukrainska Pravda's founder, Georgiy Gongadze, was murdered in 2000 after exposing the corruption scandals of Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Sheremet "played a crucial role in Ukraine's democracy" by reporting on issues such as corruption and governance.
In a meeting Wednesday, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko ordered Dekanoidze, along with the country's prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, and the head of its security service, Vasyl Hrytsak, to "solve this crime as soon as possible,” the president's website reported.
Poroshenko said he had asked the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for help, noting the FBI's specialized knowledge of explosives. He also ordered Ukraine's Foreign Ministry to ask experts from EU countries to assist in the probe.
The FBI confirmed to VOA's Ukrainian service on Wednesday that it is assisting in the investigation.
Search for motive
The Ukrainian president said no motive for the crime should be ruled out, adding that Ukrainian military forces had suffered a "record number of casualties" Tuesday in fighting with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“We shouldn’t forget that the country is defending itself against the Russian aggressor and the best sons of Ukraine sacrifice their lives on the front line," the presidential website quoted Poroshenko as saying. "We will not let anyone open a second front inside the country."
Seven Ukrainian servicemen were killed in fighting Tuesday in eastern Ukraine, where more than 9,400 people have died since violence between Ukrainian government and separatist forces erupted in April 2014.
Russia's Foreign Ministry, for its part, said in a statement Wednesday that those in Ukraine who are linking Sheremet's killing to Russia have "minds poisoned by Russophobia." The ministry said it was "shocked by the cynical murder of Russian citizen Pavel Sheremet in central Kyiv."
Sheremet was the recipient of several awards for his work as a journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) gave him the International Press Freedom Award in 1998, but Belarus' government denied him permission to travel to New York for the awards ceremony. CPJ held a special ceremony for him in Minsk.
Sheremet moved to Russia from Belarus in 1999 to work in television after spending three months in a Belarusian prison.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) awarded Sheremet its prize for Journalism and Democracy in 2012, for his human rights reporting in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
He moved to Ukraine in 2014, citing pressure from his Russian editors over his reporting on opposition protests in Kyiv against Ukraine's then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Moscow.
Observers outside Ukraine also expressed shock Wednesday over Sheremet's killing.
“It is shocking, devastating news that we received today from Kyiv,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on media freedom, told VOA’S Ukrainian service via Skype. “The brutality of the murder is something that leaves you speechless, now matter how you try to be professional and do your job.”
She called the killing "another sign for all of us trying to protect free speech and freedom of the media worldwide that we live in a very dangerous time, and journalism, and people performing journalism, are in greater danger, I would say, than ever before.”
"We honored Pavel Sheremet in 1998 with an International Press Freedom Award in recognition of his courage, his integrity and his commitment to the highest ideals of journalism," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement. "He upheld those standards through his years even as he mentored and inspired a generation of journalists in Ukraine. His killers cannot be allowed to get away with this terrible crime."
“Shocked by the murder of Pavel Sheremet,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Wednesday on Twitter. He called Sheremet “one of the best” journalists and said, “Pavel was such a decent man. So sad.”
WATCH: Video footage of car bombing
WATCH: Eyewitness account of blast that killed Sheremet