CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen and his team were traveling on Thursday to the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk to report on the search and rescue efforts underway after a residential building was leveled overnight by a Russian missile. It was “supposed to be a fairly easy shoot,” Pleitgen said, given that the crew was not heading to the frontlines of the war.
“But it turned bad in an instant,” Pleitgen said, describing what transpired in the blink of an eye as one of the “closest calls” and most dangerous episodes in his lengthy career as a foreign correspondent.
As Pleitgen and the team were heading to the scene, just moments after they had parked and exited their vehicle, a Russian missile struck nearby without warning, sending flames and thick plumes into the air as screaming civilians scrambled to find shelter. Pleitgen estimated that it landed only 40 or 50 yards shy of them.
“People went running to safety,” he said. “We made our way to the other side of the road to get into cover in a basement there. As I looked back, a second missile struck nearly the same place. Another big blast. We took cover. [We were] in a basement with some residents.”
At least five people were wounded in the attack that badly damaged residential buildings, a children’s clinic and school, according to a Ukrainian official.
Pleitgen said that after some time had passed, “when it stayed quiet,” the CNN team exited the basement, filmed the destruction left by the powerful blasts, and then quickly left the scene.
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The incident underscores the dangerous reporting that journalists are doing each day in Ukraine, navigating perilous situations to deliver news to the world about the toll Vladimir Putin’s aggression has taken on the Eastern European country and its people. The Committee to Protect Journalists said last week that Ukraine was the deadliest country for reporters in 2022, with 15 members of the press killed in the war-torn country.
“People need to understand that this war is a whole other level of danger than wars in the past decades,” Pleitgen said, adding that this is “the most dangerous” war he has ever covered. “This a full on conventional war using heavy weapons that can hit frontline areas but also civilian places anytime.”
Pleitgen said he couldn’t, for obvious reasons, detail the security precautions the CNN crew takes when operating in a war zone. But he did say that “planning and communication are everything” for the team, and that they were well prepared when the reporting assignment quickly turned dire.
The incident, Pleitgen said, has impacted how he thinks about reporting from the war zone. He said, “it is so important” for journalists to be in the country reporting on the Russian invasion that has left thousands of civilians dead and forced millions to flee their homes, “even though it is very dangerous.”
When asked how he feels about waking up in the morning tomorrow and heading back into the field, given the close call, Pleitgen said, “I feel confident.”
“But of course, an event like this reminds you to never let your guard down,” he said.
“It can all go south quickly.”