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'Proud' Irishman Pierre Zakrzewski's mother tells of heartbreak after son killed in Ukraine

The Zakrzewski family moved to Dublin in the 70s and settled in Leopardstown. Pierre was the second of five children and he attended St Conleth's College

Pierre Zakrzewski poses for a selfie with colleagues Steve Harrigan, Yonat Frilling and Ibrahim Hazboun in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo: FOX News Sunday/Handout via REUTERS)

Paul Hyland

Every time photojournalist Pierre Zakrzewski found himself approaching a checkpoint in a troubled land, he would prepare the same speech.

"My name is Pierre Zakrzewski and I'm Irish, so let me through," he would tell soldiers, taking umbrage at anybody who would not believe him.

In an interview with the Sunday World, his heartbroken mother Maire-Ange Zakrzewska said the 55-year-old's Irishness was a badge he wore proudly on foreign assignments as a journalist.

Last month, he packed his bags for war again, heading to Ukraine to cover the invasion for broadcaster Fox News. On Monday he was killed by Russian shelling outside Kyiv.

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra 'Sasha' Kuvshynova was killed during the same attack while a US reporter, Benjamin Hall, is in a serious condition in hospital.

Speaking from her Dublin home last night, Ms Zakrzewska said her son's Irishness had always been "a positive" in conflict zones including Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

"He was, in spite of his name, and his French mother and his Polish father, he was 100pc Irish and he objected when people didn't believe him," she said.

She described how he "always wanted to be a journalist, photographer, saving the world".

"He started off independently, you know when you want to prove yourself nobody will employ you, he had to go on his own, prove himself, bring back all kinds of film which afterwards the BBC or RTÉ or French companies would publish.

"He was always independent, and he worked as a freelance for Fox and Sky News and whoever wanted to employ him. Then eventually Fox got him."

The Zakrzewski family moved to Dublin in the 1970s and settled in Leopardstown.

Pierre was the second of five children, three boys and two girls, and he attended St Conleth's College in Donnybrook before entering arts at UCD.

His mother said they were a "typical" 1980s Irish family and the lack of jobs forced her children to move abroad in search of work.

"Pierre was born in Paris, but then he lived here and when he was 20 years he started moving away. It's a typical Irish family.

"The older ones finished their university courses and then went away because it was the late 80s and there were no jobs in Ireland."

For the past 15 years, Mr Zakrzewski lived in London with his wife Michelle who formerly worked as a journalist with the BBC.

He covered stories in conflict zones all over the world and recently reported on the situation in war-torn Afghanistan.

Yesterday, his family got the worst news imaginable, that he had died from the injuries sustained in the Russian air attack.

"It happened on Monday afternoon at some time, I wasn't told and then in the evening Michelle, his wife, Sky rang her to tell her he was missing and then at lunchtime we got confirmation of his death," his mother said.

Since news of his death broke, journalists and media organisations from across the world have paid tribute to his courage, kindness and dedication to his profession.

His mother said the only consolation now is that all the kind words that have been said about her son "are true".

"The only thing which is comforting is that both his employers, Sky News and Fox, they all talk about him as exactly how he was," she said.

"He was filming but he was also doing all sorts of other things and lately he was, because he spent two months in Afghanistan, he was working to get Afghans out of Afghanistan."

Ms Zakrzewska added that her son was always focused on telling the "right stories".

"Not being sentimental about it but telling the truth as it was," he said.

Fox News led tributes to Mr Zakrzewski, describing him as their "beloved cameraman".

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said: "Pierre was a war zone photographer who covered nearly every international story for Fox News from Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria during his long tenure with us.

"His passion and talent as a journalist were unmatched. Based in London, Pierre had been working in Ukraine since February.

"His talents were fast and there wasn't a role that he didn't jump in to help with in the field - from photographer to engineer to editor to producer - and he did it all under immense pressure with tremendous skill.

"He was profoundly committed to telling the story and his bravery, professionalism and work ethic were renowned among journalists at every media outlet.

"He was wildly popular - everyone in the media industry who has covered a foreign story knew and respected Pierre."

Pierre Zakrzewski

Dozens of Mr Zakrzewski's colleagues shared their heartbreak at their loss.

Making the announcement live on air, Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer called Mr Zakrzewski "an absolute legend".

A friend of Mr Zakrzewski since his schools days, Stephen O'Dea, said he was adored by his classmates and family.

"He was kind of a chameleon. You know he had a Polish dad and a French mother, a lovely family, and he was sort of an Irish fella but he could grow a beard and he could become a middle-eastern guy," he said.

"He could shave of his moustache and be a suave Frenchman but ultimately he was like 'howya lads' - he was an Irish guy and he was a very intrepid kind of fella."

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