On Tuesday, it was reported that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, a frequent critic of the Kremlin, was found shot to death in his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. It looked like another suspicious death of a journalist in the region, where hundreds of journalists have been murdered since the '90s.
Human-rights groups were horrified, and social media was rife with condolences and outrage. Friends of Babchenko said he had been murdered because he spoke out in support of Ukraine and against Russian President Vladimir Putin's intervention there.
Then on Wednesday, Babchenko showed up alive at a press conference. He said he had staged his own death.
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Why did Babchenko fake his own death?
Babchenko said he undertook the ruse, with the help of Ukranian security services, to foil an assassination plot against him. He said he agreed to go through with the plan to protect his family. A spokesperson for Ukraine's prosecutor general said that two suspects are in custody.
Who is Arkady Babchenko?
Babchenko, 41, is a former member of the Russian military, under which he fought in Chechnya. He became a journalist in 2000, serving as a war correspondent for the Russian newspapers "Moskovskiy Komsomolets" and "Novaya Gazeta," both of which have a reputation for muckraking investigations.
According to Ukrainian news site Unian, Babchenko had to leave Russia because of threats over his reporting. He lived in Europe for a period, then in 2017 moved to Kyiv and began reporting for the TV channel ATR. He has a wife, a biological daughter, and six adopted children.
Babchenko's ruse has drawn widespread criticism. On Wednesday, he said that he had "no choice but to cooperate" and lashed out at critical headlines in UK newspapers: "Dear British press, please go f--- yourself," he said Wednesday. "If you want to do good — give me a UK passport and protection. Then you can teach me how to protect my family. F---ing smart---s."
An anti-Putin journalist and a politician were killed in Kyiv in suspected contract killings in 2016, and another journalist critical of the Kremlin was killed there in 2015, CNN reports.
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed gratitude that Babchenko was alive but questioned whether the "extreme measure" was necessary. "We are relieved that Arkady Babchenko is alive," said the group's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova, in a statement.
She added: "Ukrainian authorities must now disclose what necessitated the extreme measure of staging news of the Russian journalist's murder. CPJ is investigating this unprecedented situation and will have no further comment until we have more details."