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Reporter’s Notebook: ‘Both Cared About People and Truth’

FILE - Brent Renaud attends the 74th Annual Peabody Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, May 31, 2015. Renaud, an American journalist, was killed in a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, March 13, 2022, while gathering material for a report about refugees.

Editor’s Note: Award-winning visual journalist Brent Renaud was killed in the Ukrainian city of Irpin on Sunday. His colleague Juan Arredondo, who was with him when they came under fire, was injured. Here, VOA Eastern Europe Chief Myroslava Gongadze reflects on her friend and former Nieman fellow.

Brent Renaud was not a man you can forget. Quiet, usually by himself, he was never the one to speak first.

Renaud may not have been a man of many words, but I had the sense that he was unusually perceptive. Even without much conversation, he could somehow know a person’s deepest thoughts.

The first time I realized the depth of his empathy and curiosity was in a narrative writing class, when he read an essay about the grandmother who raised him.

It was 2018 and Renaud and I were among that year’s Nieman Fellow intake at Harvard University, along with Juan Arredondo, who was with Renaud when they came under fire in Irpin.

Renaud, an experienced documentary filmmaker, often on the front line, covered the stories others would rather forget.

He would blend in and make the subjects of his documentaries feel so at ease that people would forget he was there and let their guard down.

He liked people, but preferred dogs. We were classmates but did not speak much.

So I was surprised when he was one who gave me such a deep and thorough analysis and suggestions for the essay I wrote at Harvard about my husband, George Gongadze, who was murdered in Ukraine in 2000.

Now Ukraine, in tragic way, connects them.

My husband was murdered and beheaded while uncovering high-level corruption in Ukraine. Renaud was in Ukraine to tell the story of those being attacked and killed by the Russian army.

Both cared about people and truth.

Since this war started, the sense of loss, confusion, helplessness and anger is with me all the time.

Just like 22 years ago when I lost my husband, today I am losing my friends and my Ukrainian family.

I know that many of my Ukrainian-born colleagues at VOA share that feeling. They are trying to stay calm and report on the news while not knowing what will happen to their loved ones in Ukraine.

At the same time, I feel resolute and proud of Ukrainians, for withstanding the Russian aggression, and of my brave colleagues, journalists like Brent who sacrifice their lives to tell the world the truth.