This is the moment a room of grieving reporters burst into cheers as their anti-Putin journalist colleague, who they thought was dead, appeared alive at a press conference today.
Arkady Babchenko’s stunned colleagues erupted into celebration and jumped around their Kiev newsroom after the 41-year-old sensationally walked out on stage alive and unharmed.
Some of the bewildered journalists collapsed into tears while others sat in stunned silence as they watched the bombshell revelation unfold that his death had been staged to smoke out a Russian murder plot.
Babchenko, who has previously said he feared a Russian assassination attempt, apologised to friends and family who had begun mourning for him at the press conference – including his own wife.
Late on Wednesday night, dozens of journalists descended upon the central square in Kiev laughing, hugging and drinking sparkling wine as they celebrated Babchenko’s ‘resurrection’.
On Tuesday, Kiev and national police had said Babchenko, a strong critic of the Kremlin, had been shot multiple times in the back at his apartment building and been found bleeding by his wife. They even issued a picture purportedly showing his bullet-riddled body.
Kiev had been quick to blame Russia’s ‘totalitarian machine’ for Babchenko’s murder, which the Kremlin denied. Moscow has now said that Ukraine had used Babchenko as a propaganda tool. The two nations have been in an ongoing conflict since Vladimir Putin invaded the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Arkady Babchenko’s stunned colleagues erupted into celebration and jumped around their Kiev newsroom after the 41-year-old walked out on stage alive and unharmed today
Some of the bewildered journalists collapsed into tears while others sat in stunned silence as they watched the bombshell revelation unfold that his death had been staged to smoke out a Russian murder plot
Not dead yet: Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who had been reported shot and killed in the Ukrainian capital Tuesday, turns up at news conference on Wednesday – alive and well
At today’s press conference Gritsak said the reason for SBU’s elaborate plan to fake Babchenko’s death had been to catch the Ukrainian man hired to kill him, and his Russian paymasters.
Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who had been recruited and paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organise the killing.
The unnamed Ukrainian had in turn hired an acquaintance as the gunman, who they had also identified, and both men had been arrested.
However, Gritsak did not reveal how the SBU had been able to trace the chain of events from the two unnamed Ukrainian men, back to the Russians, nor how they could prove that they were the ones responsible for paying them.
The SBU later released a video purportedly showing them arresting a man in Kiev today, who they claim is a suspected Russian agent who they say ordered the hit on Babchenko. They did not identify the man and gave no extra detail.
When Babchenko, who has six daughters, five of whom are adopted, was ushered into the room he said: ‘Apologies to my wife, Olechka (Olga).
‘I’m sorry, but there were no other options. The operation was being prepared for two months.
‘They told me a month ago. As the result of the operation, a man is taken, he is in custody.’
One Ukrainian minister compared the operation to a Sherlock Holmes plot, where the fictional detective had staged his own death.
Emotional: Babchenko breaks down in tears during his press conference after admitting that his murder had been staged
Fake news: This image began circulating after Babchenko’s ‘death’ was made public
Babchenko (centre) met with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko (left) as a group of journalists from local and international media popped corks and took selfies in Kiev’s city centre on Wednesday night
Media watchdog slams the operation as a ‘pathetic stunt’
Reporters Without Borders condemned Wednesday the staging of a murder of an anti-Kremlin journalist in Ukraine as a ‘pathetic stunt’.
Christophe Deloire, the head of the Paris-based media watchdog, told AFP that while he was relieved that Arkady Babchenko was alive, ‘it is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive… for the stunt’.
Deloire insisted the fake set-up ‘would not help the cause of press freedom. All it takes is one case like this to cast doubt on all the other political assassinations,’ he said, referring to the killings of a number of the Kremlin’s critics in Ukraine in recent years.
‘It is the state lying, even if it was brief,’ he added.
‘It’s an incredible story of a resurrection,’ joked Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin who like several of his Russian colleagues had rushed to Kiev to cover the story.
‘It’s a miracle, but a miracle that turned out to be a staged drama’.
‘We were preparing for the funeral, Many of us didn’t sleep last night. We bought plane tickets for the first flight to Kiev,’ said Kanygin, who works for the investigative Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
He was at the offices of the Ukrainian private television ATR, where Babchenko works, when the ‘murdered’ journalist made his surprise reappearance.
‘Everybody just erupted, shouting ‘hooray, he’s alive,’ it was an incredible moment,’ he said.
Igor Solovey, international editor for the Ukrainian LB.ua news website, was all smiles as he stood in the square with a cigarette in his mouth and a plastic glass of bubbly in his hand.
‘I just turned on the TV and saw his magical appearance,’ he said. ‘It was a shock. I was standing, I had to sit down. I couldn’t even speak!’
Some in the news business wondered about the impact that Ukraine’s ruse will have on the media, in particular in public confidence in their work.
‘For 24 hours we were putting out fake news,’ one editor said.
‘Obviously some think this will damage confidence in the special services, the security services and the media,’ said Kanygin.
‘Our readers or viewers are of course going to ask questions when we cry wolf’.
Babchenko himself was in a meeting with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko as the group of journalists from local and international media popped corks and took selfies.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has said they will provide protection to Babchenko and his family.
‘Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are becoming stronger every day in countering Russian aggression,’ Poroshenko said on Twitter.
‘It is unlikely that Moscow will calm down — I’ve given an order to provide Arkady and his family with protection.’
The SBU later released a video purportedly showing them arresting a man in Kiev today (pictured), who they claim is a suspected Russian agent who they say ordered the hit on Babchenko. They did not identify the man and gave no extra detail
Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who had been recruited and paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organize the killing. Pictured: Police arresting the alleged mastermind of a plot designed to kill Babchenko
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: ‘The fact that Babchenko is alive is the best news,’ but added that Ukraine was using the case for ‘propaganda’.
Russian senator Sergey Kalashnikov claimed Ukraine was guilty of ‘continuous fake information on all issues’.
Babchenko, a former soldier in the Chechen war who became one of Russia’s best-known war correspondents, had left his homeland fearing for his life after criticising Russian policy in Ukraine and Syria.
His apparent death had been reported in Ukraine yesterday, with Kiev police saying he had been shot dead after returning to his home after going food shopping.
Ukrainian police spokesman Yaroslav Trakalo had said Babchenko was found bleeding by his wife after she heard shooting, adding that he died in an ambulance on his way to hospital.
Images circulated of Babchenko lying on his front with holes in the back of his shirt, and a pool of blood underneath him.
‘The first and the most probable [reason for his murder] is his professional activity,’ Kiev police chief Andriy Kryshchenko had said at a televised press briefing earlier today.
Ukrainian authorities even released a drawing of the man they suspect is Babchenko’s assassin, around 40-45 years old, with a grey beard and wearing a cap.
Murdered: Russian journalist and Putin critic Arkady Babchenko, 41, pictured with his wife and one of his daughters, had not even told his wife, right, of his ‘fake death’
Large family: Babchenko and his wife have six daughters, some of whom are adopted
I’m sorry: Babchenko, pictured with some of his children, apologised to friends and family who had begun mourning for him – including his own wife
‘I am convinced that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and principled stance,’ Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said late Tuesday.
‘A true friend of Ukraine who was telling the world the truth about Russian aggression. His murderers should be punished.’
This afternoon, Ukrainian interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko admitted that he had been among a ‘limited circle of people’ who knew that the ‘murder’ had been staged.
Writing on Facebook he said: ‘Arkady Babchenko is alive.
‘As a result of a brilliant special operation conducted by Ukrainian law enforcers, the killer who was ordered to murder Arkady and the organiser of the murder were detained.
‘In order to document the customers and organisers of the crime – the representatives of the Russian special services, they had to be assured that the hired killer had successfully completed the order.
‘The fact that the murder of Arkady Babchenko was staged was known to a very limited circle of people.
‘This was done in the interests of preventing the slightest possibility of information leakage.’
In on it: Babchenko revealed that he had been in on the murder plot for a month
He continued: ‘To do this, law enforcement officers had to stage a large-scale information security operation.
‘This entailed publishing pictures of the allegedly murdered Arkady Babchenko, and distributing the identikit of the alleged killer with a Caucasian appearance.
‘To create a picture of full reality, statements about the death of Arkady were made by officials of our National Police.
‘Law enforcers clearly understood that the news of the murder of Arkady Babchenko would be a pain for thousands of hearts around the world. But they had no other choice.
‘In order to trace and document the chain from the killer to the organisers and customers it was necessary to create in them full confidence that the order was executed and force them to take a number of actions that will be documented by the investigation.
‘After all, even Sherlock Holmes successfully used the method of staging his own death for the effective investigation of complex and intricate crimes. No matter how painful it was for his relatives and friends.
‘A unique special operation to prevent the murder of Arkady Babchenko is an example of effective cooperation between the Security Service and the National Police in the prevention of terrorist acts and political murders.
‘Unique is also the fact that there was no leakage of information about this special operation either before the staging of the murder of Arkady Babchenko or after.’
HOW THE OPERATION WORKED: REPORTER REVEALS HOW HE FAKED HIS OWN DEATH
Speaking at the press conference today, Babchenko revealed that the operation had been planned for two months, and that he had been told about the plan a month ago.
He said: ‘During this month, I saw how the guys worked, how they dug into he case, how they worked like bulls.
‘All this month we were in touch. We had been thinking, we had been working it all out, and the result was this special operation.
‘And the man was detained. He is already in custody, the crime has been proven and all the evidence is clear.’
In on it: Babchenko is seen smiling after appearing at the press conference to reveal that the Ukrainian Secret Service had faked his death
Babchenko said: ‘They [Ukrainian Secret Service] came to me a month ago, they said that there is an order for you to be killed they money had been transferred: $40,000 USD.
‘They showed my passport details, my documents, my photo, but it was a passport which was issued when I was 25, so it was clear that the information came from the Russian Federation.
‘It was clear that the information could only have come from Russian governmental services, and could only have been obtained by the special services.
‘I was invited to take part in this special operation. I agreed and for a month we were preparing this special operation.’
Babchenko also claimed that Russia had put a ‘great deal of pressure’ on the hired killers, and had bizarrely demanded they carry out the hit before the Champions League final.
‘They pressed, very much, they [the Ukrainian hitmen] were given three weeks to complete the order.
‘Then they started to hurry and rush them, apparently fitting to the Champions League final.’
He explained: ‘I had to delay it in different ways, think of some tricks: I ‘broke’ my leg, then I had to go somewhere, everything was supposed …. I did my job, I’m still alive, they will not get me.’
Vasyl Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Secret Service, said: ‘We documented that a Ukrainian citizen was recruited to implement this plan.
‘His surname begins with the letter G. The Russian special services also set up another task for citizen G.
‘It is an illegal purchase of weapons and ammunition from the funds of Russian special services with a view to laying stashes weapons and ammunition in the central part of Ukraine.’
‘This suggests that we have learned to fight on the invisible front of confrontation with Russian special services.
‘I thank all honest and daring staff of the Security Service, the National Police and the Prosecutor’s Office for your contribution to the protection of the National Security of Ukraine and for saving the lives of Arkady Babchenko, Igor Bogdanov, me and other targets of Russian saboteurs.
‘I wish Arkady Babchenko health and long life.’
After being blamed for Babchenko’s death, Russian authorities had furiously denied the blame, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying earlier today that it was ‘very sad’ Moscow had been accused of murdering the reporter.
‘The Ukrainian prime minister is already talking about how it was done by Russian secret services,’ he said.
‘This fashion of conducting international affairs is very sad,’ Lavrov told reporters, and investigators in Moscow opened their own probe.
‘The Investigative Committee is not going to turn a blind eye to the cruel crimes against Russian citizens,’ it said in a statement.
On Monday, Babchenko had tweeted about a perceived threat from former Kremlin insider Marina Yudenich, who had called for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – a close Putin ally – to ‘invite him for tea’.
Babchenko believed this referred to the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium in his tea.
Putin’s ‘chain dog’: Former Kremlin insider Marina Yudenich, who had called for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – a close Putin ally – to ‘invite Babchenko for tea’
Threat: Babchenko interpreted Yudenich’s post about a ‘tea party’ as a public suggestion to Kadyrov to have him killed
Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov has been accused of being behind murders of Kremlin critics by Russian opposition figures
Kadyrov is also suspected by Russian opposition figures of being behind a number of killings of Kremlin critics.
In a tweet on Monday he referred to the threat, stating: ‘When the president’s representative openly posts an offer to have you killed.’
The threat was made by Yudenich in a social media post, which read: ‘So Ramzan is making tea for journalists. I am just wondering, should he not organise a tea party for another representative of the journalism community?
‘He stays in Ukraine now, too, and claims to fight on Kiev’s side. He is being fed there but I think tea at Ramzan’s will be a lot more useful.’
Yudenich’s post was published in 2014, and it is possible that Babchenko suddenly raised her comment this week, as part of the plot to fake his death.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE’S LONG CONFLICT EXPLAINED
Russia and the Ukraine have been involved in an infected conflict for centuries.
In modern day history, the animosity can be traced back to Ukraine’s Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654 with Moscow. Ukrainian Cossacks signed the agreement in order to protect their independent state from Poland.
However, Russian historians claim part of the agreement stipulated that Ukraine accepted Russia’s rule, but Ukraine insists it was always to remain independent.
In 1795, after a war between Russia and Poland, Ukraine was partitioned and most of its territory was made part of the Russian Empire.
Ukraine remained under Russia’s thumb until 1917 when, due to the Russian revolution, Ukraine took the chance to grab for its independence.
However, it wasn’t until a fractioned Ukraine came together in January 1919 that it established an independent Ukraine state, which was recognised by more than 40 nations.
But it was short-lived and by the next year, Eastern Ukraine became part of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and other parts of the country were divided up among other countries.
Strife came to a head yet again between the modern-day countries when a Joseph Stalin-backed policy, which was aimed at the Russification and persecution of Ukraine nationalists, led to the famine of 1932- 1933. Up to 10 million Ukrainians died of starvation.
Urkaine constantly changed hands up until the 1990s.
The pact between the Nazis and Soviets in 1939 meant Poland’s Ukraine territory came under Soviet influence. But in 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Ukraine was turned into a colony.
Ukrainine nationalists fought back against the Nazis and Soviets up until the 1950s when they were defeated by the Soviet Red Army.
Ukraine was finally made independent in December 1991. Soon after its independence, Ukraine joined the Commonwealth of Independent States with Russia and Belarus.
But tensions remained between Russia and Ukraine due to conflicts over control of nuclear weapons, military formation and economic reform.
Most recently, conflict effectively began with the annexation of Crimea – a military muscle-flexing exercise by President Vladimir Putin attempting to show off his strength to the West.
The Crimea conflict in combination with an anti-government ‘revolution’ that had shaken the capital Kiev for months, sparked protests by pro-Russian groups in the Donbass region in east Ukraine.
This escalated into a full-blown armed conflict between pro-Russian separatists, backed by Moscow, and the Ukrainian government which is still ongoing.
Ukraine and its Western allies have long accused Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the conflict.
It was at the height of this conflict, known as the Donbass War, that Flight MH17 was shot down over by a Russian BUK missile over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
Last week, an international team of investigators claimed they have been able to link the missile found in the wreckage of the downed jet to a Russian military unit which was operating within Ukraine at the time.
Russia has continued to deny any involvement in the downing of Flight MH17, which saw 298 people, including 80 children, lose their lives.