A Russian journalist who was critical of his government turned up alive and well just one day after he had been reported dead. Reports circulated Tuesday that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko had been killed in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, but on Wednesday, Babchenko attended a news conference — very much alive.
According to Al Jazeera, Babchenko left Russia in February 2017 because he had been receiving threats and was concerned about being imprisoned. A veteran war correspondent, Babchenko grew increasingly critical of the Kremlin in recent years.
According to The Guardian, the journalist routinely was an outspoken opponent of Putin's decision to annex Crimea, and he expressed his support for separatists in southeast Ukraine. Vasily Gritsak, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, told reporters at Wednesday's news conference that the agency had faked Babchenko's death in order to capture the people who were actually trying to kill him.
Prior to Gritsak's announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected Ukrainian allegations that Moscow was responsible for Babchenko's murder. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman alleged in a social media post on Tuesday that the "Russian totalitarian machine" had not forgiven Babchenko's critical reporting, though it became clear on Wednesday that these allegations were staged to make reports of Babchenko's death more convincing.
Before revealing that Babchenko was indeed still alive, police in Kiev reported that his wife had found him bleeding after he had been shot multiple times. He was reported to have died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital following multiple bullet wounds in his back. Gritsak said at Wednesday's news conference that this staged death was part of a "special operation," in order to preempt an actual plot to kill Babchenko.
When Babchenko entered the room during the news conference, BBC reported that his arrival reportedly elicited gasps and applause from the audience. He thanked the Ukrainian Security Service for saving his life, and apologized for causing his colleagues and friends to mourn his reported death.
"I have buried many friends and colleagues many times and I know the sickening feeling," Babchenko said. "I am sorry you had to experience it. But there was no other way."
Babchenko also apologized to his wife, who may or may not have known that his death had been faked. The journalist explained to reporters that he had learned a month earlier about an alleged Russian plot to kill him, and that the staged death was meant to preempt that. According to CNBC, the Ukrainian Security Service had managed to prevent the plot. However, multiple journalists and press organizations have since expressed concern that the agency's actions may have inadvertently put other journalists' lives at risk:
Other social media users defended the security agency's strategy, arguing that Babchenko's safety was more important than confusing news reports about him. Nonetheless, the Committee to Protect Journalists announced on Twitter that it would investigate this "unprecedented situation."
According to reporters who attended Wednesday's news conference, very few people knew that Babchenko was still alive until he appeared in the room. As a result, his neighbors had created memorials outside his apartment building, his friends had written obituaries, and his colleagues were in mourning. When Babchenko's colleagues found out that he was in fact alive, they were extremely emotional, and broke out in applause:
After the Ukrainian Security Service revealed that Babchenko was still alive, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the journalist's murder had been staged for "propagandistic effect," but that the Kremlin was nonetheless glad to hear that Babchenko had not been killed after all.