NYT’s photo of Ukrainian family of four ‘deliberately’ killed in Russian attack on civilians goes viral

“WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES”: This was the disclaimer to a now-viral photo published by the New York Times of a Ukrainian family of four lying dead on the street in Irpin, near Kyiv, following a Russian attack on fleeing civilians.

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario tweeted Sunday morning, “Today I witnessed Russian troops deliberately targeting civilians fleeing for their lives from the village of Irpin. At least three members of a family of four were killed in front of me.”

It’s a heartbreaking sight, one that is already burned into the minds of the nearly 29,000 Twitter users who “liked” the tweet and now, millions of New York Times readers, who have seen it on the paper’s front page.

The decision to run such a disturbing photo has once again sparked criticism and debate over the use of such images and videos when covering a war. While some see it as insensitive and exploitative, others note the importance of showing a “moment of horror” in wars that are often seen as nightly entertainment by desensitized viewers in faraway lands.

Take, for example, the iconic image of little Phan Thi Kim Phúc, doused in napalm, running naked and screaming down a South Vietnamese road.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, as Traci Tong aptly noted for The World, “exposed the horrors of the Vietnam War to the world.”

It is not an overstatement to say, it was images like these that fueled the public’s anti-Viet Nam war sentiment and eventually led to changes in governmental policies and strategies.

And this is how the fallen Irpin family is certain to go down in history. It’s that kind of image.

In a three-tweet thread, New York Times diplomatic correspondent Edward Wong described the scene captured by Addario as “pure horror.”

“Russian soldiers are deliberately killing Ukrainian civilians trying to flee,” Wong tweeted. “A mother & 2 children were killed and father wounded by a mortar shell as hundreds of civilians sought safety.”



To the still photo, Wong attached an even more graphic video which “appears to show the mortar shell exploding among the Ukrainian civilians.” Wong notes that “[New York Times] security employees raced out first to give aid.”

He defended the NYT’s editors’ decision to use the photo: “[New York Times] editors have made an important decision to put the photo by [Lynsey Addario] on the homepage,” he tweeted. “Again, Russian forces fired mortar shells at hundreds of Ukrainian civilians as they fled. A mother and her two children were killed here. This is happening across Ukraine.”


So far, it seems the majority of users on social media agree: It is important to see the reality of war, not for its propaganda value, but to remind us all why our global leaders must do all that they can to avoid them in the future.




Melissa Fine


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