In the middle of a press conference about his own murder, 41-year-old Arkady Babchenko appeared in front of cameras and his family.
He was alive.
Just hours earlier, international news headlines were dominated by reports the top Russian journalist had been murdered, leaving a wife and six kids behind. In actuality, Babchenko had faked his own death having been tipped off regarding the price on his head.
This is everything we know so far.
Who is Arkady Babchenko?
Babchenko is one of Russia’s most well-known journalists, who left the country in 2017 after writing on Facebook he no longer felt safe living there, ABC reports.
The 41-year-old was a vocal critic of the Kremlin and of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In that Facebook post, later translated and published in The Guardian, Babchenko explained why he was so vocally critical of the government and told of the abuse he suffered as a result.
“Two months ago, a Russian plane was transporting the world-famous military choir Alexandrov Ensemble en route to Syria. They were travelling to perform for pilots involved in Russia’s air campaign on Aleppo.
“I wrote a post about this on Facebook. I didn’t call for anything or insult anyone. I just reminded my readers that Russia was Aleppo, without recognising that dozens of children were dying in those bombs, their photographs making their way around the world. I also called Russia an aggressor.”
He went on to explain that after that, “all the elements of the propaganda machine were engaged”, including mainstream news outlets calling for his deportation.
Colleagues of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko had gathered to watch a police press conference, where they expected to be briefed on his murder. Then they saw he was actually alive. https://t.co/OaAfs1hTY1 pic.twitter.com/kPusb7mMZl
— CNN (@CNN) May 30, 2018
Who wanted to kill him?
It’s not quite clear, although the Ukrainian Security Service reportedly received information about a plot to kill 30 people in Ukraine. That list of 30 names included Babchenko.
When he appeared in the press conference alive, Babchenko thanked the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, for saving his life and said the most important thing was that ‘other big acts of terror’ had been thwarted.
The security service declined to say who the other 29 people at risk of such terror were, although explained that a Ukrainian citizen was recruited by Russia to find a hitman to kill Babchenko. The man was given $40,000 to organise the murder – $30,000 for the killer and $10,000 for being an intermediary.
“We managed not only to break this cynical provocation, but also to document the preparation of this shameful crime by Russian special services,” SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak said.
Two people have since been taken into custody.
Why did he fake his death?
According to CNN, a month ago, Babchenko was told about the threat against him, and worked with the SBU to thwart it.
General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said they felt there was no other way forward than to fake Babchenko’s death, to give organisers of the murder plot the illusion that their plan had succeeded.
The Russian Foreign ministry said it was happy Babchenko had turned out to be alive after all, but described the stunt as an “anti-Russian provocation”.
Babchenko apologised in particular to his wife, Olechka, who found him in a pool of blood and assumed he was dead. Olechka was said to have discovered him lying with gunshot wounds on the floor of their living room, and was later told he died on the way to the hospital.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) May 30, 2018
“I would like to apologise for what you have all had to go through,” Babchenko told reporters at the press conference. “I’m sorry, but there was no other way of doing it. Separately, I want to apologise to my wife for the hell that she has been through.”
Regarding his safety, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he had ordered law enforcement agencies to protect Babchenko and his wife and six children.
“Everything is over from yesterday,” Babchenko said. “I did my job and I’m still alive.”