When war breaks out, the question posed at AFP is never shall we go? Our mission is to seek the facts and to bear witness wherever that may be, no matter how difficult and no matter how dangerous. We ask how can we go? Who can we send? And how can we possibly do this as safely as possible? This mission is deeply embedded in our DNA. The modern news agency was born out of the ashes of the second world war and the fall of fascism. We never take the freedom to do our job for granted. Reporting on war and conflict is an inalienable part of who we are. We believe that our journalism can make a difference. We believe we need to be on the ground to hear the stories of ordinary people caught up in the tumult and chaos.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 24 last year, AFP has shown an unshakeable commitment to report the story from across the country. In total we have filed from over 150 datelines from across Ukraine and we have sent over 100 journalists on missions to reinforce our excellent team in the country. At any one time, AFP has between 20 and 35 journalists working to tell the story for our thousands of media clients around the world. We are immensely proud of their work. And we count ourselves fortunate to have so many brave staff and contributors committed to telling this story, often putting themselves in harm’s way.
And there was nobody as brave and as committed as Arman Soldin. He was integral to our operation here and helped to construct a new and superb AFPTV operation after the chaos caused by the invasion.
Throughout this time Arman had no doubt about where he needed to be. He was among the very first AFP special correspondents to make it to Kyiv to help our local team already on the ground after the invasion. And over the next months he returned again and again to the country -- to Kyiv, Irpin, Kherson, Kharkiv, Izyum and elsewhere …. And of course finally to the Bakhmut area where he died. The terrible but important battle of Bakhmut where Arman found uplifting stories to complement his filming of the attritional warfare of the trenches.
The loss of Arman is so devastating for us because he represented the very best of AFP. He was totally committed to the story and he believed that his work could make a real difference. He wanted to be on the ground to bear witness to the suffering caused by this war. And above all he wanted to capture the human stories underneath the bullets and shells. Amazingly, he did all this with a smile and a positive energy that enchanted both his colleagues and the subjects of his stories. Everybody seems to have simply loved working with him. He was a ray of sunshine for many of his colleagues. He worked hard but he also took his fun very seriously. He loved to dance, he loved his music, he loved his friends, he loved animals and he loved his football.
And his work had real impact. It mattered. AFP works for hundreds of TV stations and thousands of media clients in every corner of the globe. His images and stories consistently found their way onto the world’s biggest platforms. Many clients knew him and tracked his output. They looked for his stories and images. When we lost him last week, AFP’s loss was also our clients’ loss. “His reports from Ukraine were a vital part of our coverage,” said one European TV station. “His way with words and video was inspirational,” said another. “He told powerful stories about life, stories our audiences need to hear.”
The loss of Arman is a body blow, it shakes our resolve and makes us question everything we do. We rightly ask ourselves difficult questions.
But is also sharpens our focus. It is important to keep going to honour the memory of Arman. He believed passionately in the work we are doing in Ukraine, and so do we. It will of course be hard and painful to return to the front line. But we shall find a way. Just as we did when we lost our friends Sardar Ahmad, Mohammed Akhtar and Shah Marai in Afghanistan.
At a time when populism and dictatorship are fueling distrust of journalism, we should all be moved by Arman’s story. His journey from the civil war of Bosnia to the trenches of Ukraine is a powerful antidote to the cynicism around us. There is an inspiring clarity and purity to his journalistic vision. At AFP, we shall never forget this. And we shall strive every day to ensure we live up to his standards.
AFP's Global News Director Phil Chetwynd originally delivered this speech at a tribute held on May 15 in Kyiv to commemorate Arman Soldin's life.
Image © Bulent Kilic/AFP