On Tuesday, Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist known to be critical of the Kremlin, was reported to have been shot dead near his apartment in Kiev, Ukraine.
The report made news around the world because it seemed like the latest example of Russian President Vladimir Putin or his allies silencing a prominent critic. Dozens of Russian journalists, political activists, and human rights advocates have been killed or died under mysterious circumstances in recent years.
But the Babchenko story appears to be something quite different. On Wednesday, the journalist shocked the world when he showed up at a Ukrainian police press conference very much alive and unscathed.
It turns out that Babchenko, in coordination with Ukrainian police, staged his death as part of a scheme to track down people who they believed were trying to kill him.
Babchenko said the plot was planned for months, and he had to keep it secret from friends and family to ensure its success.
“Special apologies to my wife, Olechka — there was no other option,” Babchenko said. “The operation was under preparation for two months.”
Ukraine’s security service said that after learning of threats made against his life, they decided to put together an operation to collect evidence of terrorist activity by Russian special services.
Ukrainian police said that they made one arrest in connection with the alleged assassination attempt.
Babchenko’s apparent death had immediately sparked tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman implied in a Facebook post that Moscow was behind Babchenko’s murder, while Russia accused Kiev of creating a hostile environment for journalists.
After the revelation of Babchenko’s staged death, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said she was happy he was alive but that the plot was a Ukrainian propaganda exercise.
During the press conference, Babchenko apologized for the grief his staged death had caused. “I have been forced to bury my friends and colleagues many times and I know the sickening feeling,” he said.