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Ukraine visuals document an exceptionally dark chapter of the war; intelligence says aides misled Putin

A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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AP teams have again dominated coverage of the war in Ukraine on two fronts, this time in horrifying images of civilians killed in Bucha and surrounding areas outside Kyiv, and in stories out of Washington and London, where AP was first with a report that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aides have been misleading him about the war. A smart follow-up delved into the strategic value of declassifying such intelligence.

One of the ongoing mysteries of Russia’s war on Ukraine has centered on what Putin knows about his own military campaign and whether his aides are being candid with him. White House reporter Aamer Madhani, who specializes in national security, scooped the world when a reliable source came to him with a recently declassified intelligence finding that Putin was “being misinformed by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing.”

Knowing the news was likely to be shared soon with other reporters, Madhani quickly drafted a story and flagged the reporting to Washington-based intelligence beat reporter Nomaan Merchant. The two were able to report ahead of any competitors the key intelligence finding. Their lead: “U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed by advisers about his military’s poor performance in Ukraine,according to the White House. The advisers are scared to tell him the truth,the intel says.”

Madhani and Merchant built in important context: While the administration was hopeful that divulging the finding could help prod Putin to reconsider his options in Ukraine,it could also backfire. Not ready to rest on the news beat, London’s Jill Lawless teamed up with Madhani for a well-reported and collaborative weekend story that examined the allies’ strategy of declassifying intelligence about Putin’s ambitions and the implications. Lawless’ pitch-perfect lead: “The war in Ukraine is the conflict where spies came in from the cold and took center stage.”

AP’s story beat the competition and was a top offering for the weekend, scoring sky-high reader engagement.

On the ground in Ukraine,video journalists Sasha Stashevsky and Nebi Qena,and photographer Vadim Ghirda,arrived Saturday in Bucha after Russian forces were ousted. There they caught the first glimpse of civilians lying dead in the streets. They saw seven bodies along a road and interviewed residents who said the people were killed for no reason. The team went on to cover the Ukrainian military clearing out the road for tanks,tracked the mayor of Irpin to the Antonov Airport in Hostomel,where they made images of the world’s largest cargo plane,the Antonov An-225,destroyed in its hangar. Video journalist Andrea Rosa and photographer Rodrigo Abd,meanwhile, produced powerful images of Russian military equipment destroyed in the fighting and dead Russian soldiers in Irpin and Bucha.

On Sunday,Ghirda and Stashevsky were the first journalists to record the bodies of eight men,some with hands tied behind their backs and with signs of torture,who were killed execution style in a logistics center used by the Russian army in Bucha. Joining Qena,they went on to document the discovery of the body of the mayor of Motyzhyn, executed along with her husband and son in the village 50 km (30 miles) west of Kyiv after she refused to cooperate with the Russians. Rosa and Abd also located a mass grave in the yard of a Bucha church where dozens of bodies of civilians believed killed by Russians were buried.

The grim images landed on news websites,broadcasts and front pages around the world,defining one of the darkest chapters of the war so far and raising fears of what may be unfolding in areas as yet inaccessible to journalists.

For their vital role documenting this brutal episode of the war,and for revealing reports of failures in the Kremlin’s intelligence at the highest levels,the journalism of Nebi Qena,Sasha Stashevsky,Vadim Ghirda,Andrea Rosa and Rodrigo Abd in Ukraine,Aamer Madhani and Nomaan Merchant in Washington, and Jill Lawless in London receives AP’s Best Of The Week — First Winner honors.

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