Dead Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko alive after Ukraine stages death

Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko, who was reported to have been shot dead, has strolled into a news conference and declared "I'm still alive".

Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian security service, told the media gathered in Kiev that the agency faked Mr Babchenko's death to stop a Russian plan to kill him.

Moscow said it was happy that Mr Babchenko was alive after all.

Kiev had said the 41-year-old Russian journalist, a strong critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot multiple times in the back at his apartment building while on his way to buy bread on Tuesday night.

They had claimed he was found bleeding by his wife and had died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

To applause and gasps of surprise from those at the news conference, Mr Babchenko apologised for what people had been through, and thanked everyone who had been mourning his death.

"I would like to apologise for what you have all had to go through," Mr Babchenko, who looked on the verge of tears at times, told reporters.

"I'm sorry, but there was no other way of doing it."

In particular he said sorry to his wife, who detectives had earlier said they were unable to speak to because she was suffering from shock.

"Separately, I want to apologise to my wife for the hell that she has been through," he said.

He thanked the Ukrainian security service for saving his life and said the operation had been planned for two months.

Mr Gritsak says investigators have identified a Ukrainian citizen who was allegedly paid $40,000 (£30,000) by the Russian security service to organise and carry out the killing. That citizen was also apparently asked to buy weapons and ammunition.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has promised to provide protection to Mr Babchenko and his family going forward.

The leader added that Ukrainian authorities are becoming stronger in countering what he termed "Russian aggression".

Ukraine had released an image of a man wanted in connection with the killing.

A statement from the Ukrainian embassy in London said "the perpetrator of a crime" had been arrested and that Ukraine will "bring organisers to justice".

It has been reported that a Ukrainian citizen has been arrested.

Mr Gritsak said his service had received information about a Russian plan to assassinate Mr Babchenko, and had managed to prevent it.

Mr Babchenko, one of Russia's best-known war reporters, spoke last year about leaving the country because of repeated threats that he and his family would be harmed.

There has been backlash from some in the journalism trade over Ukraine's actions.

The chief of Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Babchenko operation, saying: "it is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive... for the stunt".

Channel 4 News' international editor Lindsey Hilsum wrote on Twitter that the action will impact journalists' safety.

"So now every time a journalist is murdered, those responsible will unleash their bots and propagandists to say it's fake news. Thanks, Ukrainian security services. That's really helpful to all who care about journalists' safety. #Babchenko," she said.

Russia said Ukraine's alleged use of Mr Babchenko served its propaganda purposes.

The Kremlin had earlier said that Ukraine had become a "very dangerous place" for journalists - and criticised Kiev for failing to protect them.

Another well-known reporter, Pavel Sheremet, was killed in a car bombing in central Kiev in July 2016. The case remains unsolved but he was also a critic of Russia, Ukraine and his native Belarus.

Before the true fate of Mr Babchenko had been revealed, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that he was "appalled to see another vocal Russian journalist murdered".


Credit: Sanya Burgess, SKY news

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