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Arkady Babchenko

Ukraine: Reporter's fake murder involved pig's blood, morgue

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Updated May 31, 2018 12:57 PM EDT

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Russian journalist who worked with Ukrainian authorities to fake his own death said Thursday that the elaborately staged murder including getting smeared in pig's blood and taken to the morgue.

Arkady Babchenko detailed the deception to fellow reporters for the first time since Ukrainian authorities revealed Wednesday they arranged to make it look like the Kremlin critic was shot dead to foil an alleged plot on his life by Moscow's security services.

Babchenko, 41, said at a news conference in Kiev that he could have refused when Ukrainian security service officials approached him with the idea for the ruse about a month ago, but readily agreed.

The Ukrainian agents told him the Russian security services had placed an order for his slaying the month before that, Babchenko, who fled Russia in February 2017 because of what he described as death threats.

"I said: 'Great, why have you been waiting for a month?'" he recounted Thursday.

Kiev police reported Tuesday that Babchenko, who settled in Kiev in the fall and worked as a host for the Crimean Tatar TV station, had been shot inside his apartment building and discovered there by his wife. Police said he died on the way to the hospital.

The next day, during a news conference to discuss the killing, Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Gritsak revealed that Babchenko was alive by inviting him into the room, stunning fellow journalists. Babchenko said even his wife had believed he was dead.

Gritsak also said a Ukrainian citizen who allegedly was paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organize and carry out the hit had been arrested. The man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman.

On Thursday, Babchenko described what a makeup artist and security officers did to make the staged murder look genuine.

The security officers took his sweatshirt and shot it through with a gun. Babchenko said he put on the shirt and got smeared with pig's blood. He was taken in an ambulance to a hospital intensive care unit, where a forensic expert officially "documented" his death. After that, he ended up in a morgue.

Babchenko said he was worried the entire time the operation would fall through, but was relieved after it was completed.

"I only stopped being afraid at the morgue," he said.

Pressed for details about the contract on his head allegedly taken out by Russia and how the arrest would benefit investigators, Babchenko said he had no idea and was leaving it up to the security service.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) —A Russian journalist who was reportedly gunned down in Ukraine's capital strolled into a news conference that authorities called Wednesday to discuss the investigation of his death, revealing that the slaying had been staged to foil an alleged Kremlin hit plot.

"I'm still alive," Arkady Babchenko, 41, told startled fellow reporters at the news conference held less than 24 hours after police reported he had been shot and killed at his Kiev apartment building.

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

Babchenko apologized to his wife, who he said was not briefed on the scheme in advance, "for the hell she had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either."

Neither he nor Vasyl Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, provided details of how they staged Babchenko's injuries or made his wife believe he was dead.

The movie-like twist came as Gritsak convened the news conference to announce that the security agency and the police had solved Babchenko's reported slaying. He then confused everyone there by inviting the supposed slaying victim into the room.

To applause and gasps, Babchenko took the floor and apologized to the friends and family who mourned for him and were unaware of the plan.

"I'm still alive," he said. "I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague. I'm sorry you had to go through this but there was no other way."

Before ushering Babchenko into the room, Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who allegedly was paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organize and carry out the hit. The unidentified Ukrainian man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman, Gritsak said.

The man allegedly paid to organize Banchenko's killing was detained Wednesday, he said, showing a video of the arrest.

Gritsak said killing Babchenko was part of a larger alleged plot by Russian security services. The Ukrainian man was also supposed to procure large quantities of weapons and explosives, including 300 AK-47 rifles and "hundreds of kilos of explosives," to perpetrate acts of terror in Ukraine, he said.

Babchenko said he was not allowed to go into the details of the sting operation, but said Ukrainian law enforcement had been aware of a contract on his head for two months. He said he was approached by the Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, a month ago.

"The important thing is my life has been saved and other, bigger terrorist attacks have been thwarted," he said.

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 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, Ponomarev said Wednesday before the fact that the slaying was staged came out.

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.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko lashed out Wednesday at Ukrainian politicians and civil groups who accused the government following Babchenko's faked assassination of allowing contract killings to happen.

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