The world was aghast Tuesday as reports surfaced that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was murdered in Kiev, shot to death in the entryway of his own home.
But Wednesday, reporters were shocked when Babchenko showed up in person – and very much alive – to a press conference where the media expected to receive updates on his murder.
According to Ukrainian authorities, Babchenko’s death was staged in an elaborate scheme to uncover those who were actually trying to kill him.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian police had said Babchenko, a Kremlin critic and veteran Russian war correspondent, was shot three times in the back as he left his apartment to buy bread. A government official told the media that Babchenko, 41, died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
But on Wednesday, officials said Babchenko had staged his death in coordination with Ukrainian police as part of an investigation into threats made against his life. The plan had been in place for more than a month, they said.
Police said they had made one arrest in connection with the operation.
Babchenko – whose own wife and family apparently were unaware of the plan – apologized at the Wednesday press conference for the grief caused to friends and family members.
“I have been forced to bury my friends and colleagues many times and I know the sickening feeling.”
“Special apologies to my wife, Olechka – there was no other option,” Babchenko said to a room of visibly stunned journalists. “The operation was under preparation for two months.”
According to general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, it was necessary to fake Babchenko’s death in order to convince those plotting the murder that they had succeeded.
Vasily Gritsak, the head of the Ukrainian security service, said Russian officials had offered $30,000 to a fighter from eastern Ukraine to kill Babchenko.
The Russian foreign ministry said on Wednesday it was happy Babchenko had turned out to be alive, but said Ukraine had used his story as propaganda. Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the story was imbued with “propagandistic effect”.
Other Russian officials denounced the staged murder. “It’s a hoax, as well as a provocation, with accusations against Russia of a feigned murder,” Alexey Pushkov, a prominent Russian lawmaker, wrote on Twitter.