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Anti-Kremlin Russian journalist fakes death, turns up in Ukraine

Moscow: Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko turned up at a news conference in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev less than 24 hours after police reported he had been shot and killed at his city apartment building. The country’s security services said Babchenko’s death was faked to foil a plot to take his life.

Ukrainian police said on Tuesday that Babchenko, a strong critic of the Kremlin, was shot multiple times in the back on Tuesday and found bleeding there by his wife. Authorities said they suspected he was killed because of his work.

Vasyl Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, announced at a news conference on Wednesday that the security agency and police had solved Babchenko’s slaying. He then startled everyone there by inviting the 41-year-old reporter into the room.

To the applause and gasps of the press, Babchenko took the floor and apologised to friends and family who mourned for him and were unaware of the plan. “I’m still alive,” he said.

Before ushering Babchenko into the room, Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who had been recruited and paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organise and carry out the killing. The unidentified Ukrainian man, in turn, hired an acquaintance who had fought in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine as the gunman.

Babchenko, one of Russia’s best-known war reporters, fled the country in February 2017 after receiving death threats.

He spoke and wrote about leaving the country because of the threats against him and his family. He said his home address was published online and the threats he received were made by phone, email and social media.

Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian lawmaker who also moved to Ukraine, said on Wednesday that Babchenko continued being threatened after he settled last fall in Kiev, where he worked as a host for the Crimean Tatar TV station. Babchenko did not take the intimidation too seriously, according to Ponomarev.

Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine were topics on which the journalist was scathingly critical of the Kremlin.