Arman Soldin From Bosnia to Ukraine with a smile

Arman Soldin: From Bosnia to Ukraine with a smile – FRANCE 24 English

On Tuesday, another conflict in Ukraine claimed the life of the unflinchingly smiling AFP video journalist.

The 32-year-old Frenchman, widely lauded for his sensitivity, bravery and professionalism, had just days earlier completed some final stories detailing both the intensity of the fighting and the death threat threatening people outside the headlines floated.

In bomb-ravaged Siwersk, Arman followed Oleksandr, a former welder who became one of the unsung heroes of the war, delivering bread to isolated elderly near the front lines on a clattering moped.

“How can we live without bread?” asked Lyubov Shcherbak, a scrawny 76-year-old, as she showed the journalist her meal of three eggs freshly laid by her hens.

Arman visited a field hospital near Bakhmut at night to provide first aid to wounded Ukrainian soldiers.

On May 1, he tweeted about his “sheer terror” as he lay prone and filmed Russian missiles falling tens of meters (yards) away.

friends for life

Oksana Soldin and Arman fled the panic, destruction and death of the conflict in Bosnia on a humanitarian flight to France on April 25, 1992.

Television footage from that day shows her arriving at Paris’ Orly Airport, with Arman next to her, whose then curly blond hair stands out against his black sweater.

“Grenades blew up the stairwells of our house in Sarajevo. I managed to board the plane… We spent the flight on the ground with Arman in my arms,” recalls Oksana, now 59 years old.

It was to be six years in France before the family returned to Bosnia after the bloody ethnic conflict had finally cooled.

More than 100,000 people died in the fighting, which raged until 1995.

“Sarajevo was devastated. Arman kept asking us questions. We were the same age, but his spirit was older,” recalls school friend Aldin Suljevic.

The two became “friends for life” on September 2, 1998 when they first sat side by side in primary school – they never lost touch, even when Arman returned to France in 2002 after his parents separated.


“We have gone through a difficult period of uprooting. As refugees, we were at the bottom of the list. That’s why our family is so close, that’s why we talk every day,” says Arman’s brother Sven, 26.

He saw his older brother as “invincible,” “an idol,” and “the most important person in his life.”

Every summer Arman, Sven and their sister Ena would return to Bosnia to visit their father Sulejman, who was himself a well-known journalist.

“Arman was French, but Bosnia was in his heart,” said his friend Suljevic.

Suljevic believes the pain of the conflict in Arman’s home country “played a role” in his desire to cover the fighting in Ukraine.

Aged just 11, Arman was playing with writing news stories in his bedroom in the western French city of Rennes, his mother recalls.

And at 16, he uploaded to YouTube a compilation of haunting images entitled Sarajevo at War, set to Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni’s mournful Adagio.

“Arman may not have had any connections to Ukraine, but he chose to go there because he wanted to make himself useful. He wanted to seek the truth,” said Oksana, a professor of philosophy and sociology.

“Smile All the Time”

Like many French teenagers, Arman was a football enthusiast and played in the youth team at giants Stade Rennais from 2006 to 2008 – but he gave up a professional career due to knee injuries.

“Football was a big part of his life,” said his brother Sven.

“He was extremely good, extremely talented. He had something special.”

Speaking French, English and Italian, Arman studied in London, Lyon and Sarajevo before securing an internship at AFP’s Rome office in 2015.

Video reporter Sonia Logre remembers him as “a dream intern”.

“He wanted to do everything, see everything, know everything. He wanted to study modestly, had a desire to discover Italy and a deep love of life.”

Former AFP sports correspondent in Rome Emmanuel Barranguet said Arman was “beaming all the time”.

“He even smiled when he played football. He outdid me I don’t know how many times, smiling the whole time.”

Arman was hired by AFP in London that same year, where alongside his work and covering Brexit, he threw himself into big city life, “partying with a close group of friends from Friday night through Sunday,” recalls ex-girlfriend Diane Dupre.

Still, the young reporter is frustrated by “not being there often enough,” she added.

Alongside his AFP work, Arman became the UK sports correspondent for French premium TV channel Canal+ from 2019, where deputy sports editor David Barouh recalled his smile and “wild charm” which meant “everyone loved him, professionally and as a human”.

“Come up for a breath”

Later, when Arman returned from Ukraine, he was immediately immersed again in the luxurious world of the Premier League and its pristine pitch – days after he was bombed.

“Maybe it was like he was gasping for air,” Barouh muses.

Arman was already stationed in Ukraine when Russia invaded in February 2022.

He had volunteered to be one of AFP’s first dispatched special correspondents – just as he had volunteered to cover the first deadly months of Europe’s Covid-19 epidemic in Italy.

AFP photographer Dimitar Dilkoff met Arman on February 24, the day of the Russian attack.

“We went to Ukraine together,” said the Bulgarian, praising the “sunny” nature of his colleague and his “desire to be the first there.”

Emmanuel Peuchot, a journalist with extensive experience in war zones and other hostile environments, joined the team last October.

In Arman he found a reporter “who belongs to the younger generation, a whole social network to himself. He was always on Twitter, but not at all to post his own selfies.”

Recalling his colleague’s “openness whenever he met people,” Peuchot basically said, “He liked people, he was oriented towards others.”

At the end of April this year, the AFP team found a badly injured hedgehog at the bottom of a crater.

Arman took on the task of feeding and caring for the creature at the AFP base.

“Make people understand”

Just a few days later, the hedgehog – “Lucky”, as the video journalist called him in Twitter posts – was released again.

“As you read this cute story, don’t forget that a bloody war is raging and millions of people are being displaced. Help by donating to NGOs,” Arman wrote in one of his recent posts on the network.

Alongside his daily reporting, Arman had begun working with an artist on a graphic novel about Ukraine to “help people understand what’s happening on the ground,” Diane Dupre said.

The reporter “wanted to embody the war without making himself a story,” she added.

On May 9, 2023, Arman was hit by rocket fire from Grad rockets near Chasiv Yar, a Ukrainian town near Bakhmut. The rest of the AFP team survived unharmed.

Shortly before, “he was like always, he was joking,” said photographer Dilkoff.

Arman died “with his camera in hand,” his face showing no signs of suffering, Peuchot said.

Since his death, hundreds of Arman’s colleagues and friends, as well as anonymous citizens and politicians, have hailed the big-hearted video reporter.

Many of the dozen people AFP interviewed for this article laughed as they recalled his machinations before bursting into tears again.

Arman Soldin was born in Sarajevo and killed in the Donbas. Above all, he was “a very sensitive, very emotional person,” said his mother Oksana.

“He collected all the flowers in the world for me.”