Best of AP — First Winner


Determined reporting, solid sourcing and regional expertise put AP ahead on Ukraine coverage

People carry a large Ukrainian flag marking a "day of unity" in Sievierodonetsk, in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, Feb. 16, 2022. With Russian troops massed on his borders, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky declared the day of national unity in the face of “hybrid threats.” (AP Photo / Vadim Ghirda)


AP journalists Matt Lee and Vladimir Isachenkov, along with all-formats colleagues covering the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis, delivered on AP’s promise — fast, accurate, contextualized reporting on one of the world’s most complex stories.

Diplomatic writer Lee scored a lengthy beat over the competition, breaking the news that the U.S. was evacuating most embassy personnel from Ukraine,while Moscow-based Isachenkov has drawn on his deep knowledge of the region to imbue his dispatches with critical context,history and analysis that helped readers make sense of the ongoing crisis.

Together, Lee and Isachenkov are AP’s Best of the Week — First Winners.

Over the weeks of the intensifying and complicated crisis,Isachenkov has not only been the lead writer for on-the-ground spot developments but has contributed a wealth of stories explaining the nuances,strategies and background behind the breaking news. Notable recent stories, done either on his own or in cooperation with reporters including Lee in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv include exploring the skepticism that most Russians feel about the prospect of imminent war; the details and history of the Minsk II Accord,a 2015 deal whose unfulfillment is a key element of Russia’s grievances, and an analysis of the feints, parries and misdirections of the Russia-West brinksmanship.

Few reporters are better sourced in U.S. foreign policy circles than Lee,whose persistent questioning at State Department briefings have become legend. As a potential war lurked on the horizon in Ukraine,Lee aggressively worked his contacts. On Friday,his tenacity delivered not one,but two breaking news stories for AP. The source mentioned that something was expected with the embassy in Kyiv,and although the source couldn’t provide more details on the embassy,they did give Lee another newsy nugget: The U.S. would be opening an embassy in the Solomon Islands. Before Lee pivoted to the Ukraine,he handed the Solomon Island news to Nick Perry, the AP correspondent covering New Zealand and the South Pacific. Lee’s fast thinking enabled Perry to break the story before Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced it in Fiji.

Lee then turned his full attention to the Kyiv embassy. It was tough to reach sources late Friday night,though Lee got through to someone who gave him,off the record,general details about the embassy plans. Lee then made more calls and reached out to colleagues on the national security reporting team in Washington. One colleague — who is not being named in this citation to protect a source — was able to obtain confirmation on background while another,AP White House reporter Aamer Madhani,obtained an off-the-record confirmation. Lee then received confirmation and more details on background from yet another source. That gave AP the confidence to move forward with the story. A third background source confirmed the plans and provided additional details shortly afterward.

The AP alert moved at 11:26 p.m. and,because it was late on a Friday night,it took hours for the competition to catch up. Minutes after the alert moved,the State Department notified reporters it would have a background call for “an update on our diplomatic presence in Ukraine” at 8 a.m. Saturday,but the notification provided no further details.

The withdrawal of most U.S. diplomatic personnel from the embassy dominated news coverage Saturday morning, both domestically and internationally.

The work of Lee and Isachenkov capped a streak of remarkable coverage of Ukraine:

— Video journalist Mstyslav Chernov and photographer Evgeniy Maloletka in Kharkiv provided notable images from that Ukrainian city close to the Russian border. Their in-depth reporting and evocative visuals captured the flavor of daily life as civilians from all walks of life prepared for a possible Russian invasion.

— Freelance video journalist Inna Varenytsia and Romania-based photographer Vadim Ghirda have worked tirelessly for several weeks in eastern Ukraine,where a war with Russia-backed separatists has been rumbling on for more than eight years.

— Tbilisi-based producer Sophiko Megrelidze hit the ground running when she was “parachuted” into Kyiv as tensions began to ratchet up in late January. Megrelidze put in a lot of the groundwork for the AP teams arriving to the country in the weeks that followed. She joined the permanent Kyiv team of video journalist Oleksandr Stashevskyi,writer Karmanau and photographer Efrem Lukatsky,all of whom have been living and breathing this story for several months.

For well-sourced,steadfast reporting that has consistently kept the AP ahead on the Ukraine crisis,Lee and Isachenkov,in collaboration with dedicated colleagues, earn AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner honors.

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