The Russian journalist who staged his own murder as part of an elaborate plot to catch an alleged assassin has told of how he watched reports of his death from a Ukrainian morgue.
Arkady Babchenko said his death was faked with the help of a makeup artist and pigs’ blood, in a ploy that Ukrainian security services say was necessary to protect his life.
Speaking at a press conference in Kiev, the anti-Kremlin journalist described how he was shown how to fall as if he had been shot. He put on a T-shirt that had been shot through to show bullet wounds and was then covered with pigs’ blood.
After his wife called emergency services, Babchenko said, he was transferred to an ambulance. “Measures were taken to resuscitate me but it was not successful and I died, where the doctor established death.”
Babchenko was then taken to a morgue where he was “still pretending to be dead,” he said. Once he was inside the morgue and the doors were closed he “came back to life.” He then watched news reports about his death, “what a great guy I was,” he said.
The 41-year-old journalist stunned observers when he showed up alive at a news conference on Wednesday – a day after his reported killing – to declare that his murder was faked by Ukrainian security services to foil an assassination plot against him.
Answering questions Thursday about his staged killing, Babchenko again insisted that he had little choice after being presented by Ukrainian security services with details of the plot against his life.
He also pushed back against criticism that he had undermined trust in journalism by participating in the operation, saying his aim was to keep himself and his family safe. “I was thinking about my survival,” he said, not journalistic ethics.
While welcoming the fact he was alive, media outlets and the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international media watchdog, have raised questions over the ethics of the operation, its impact on public trust in the media and its potential exploitation by Russia.
In a Facebook post earlier Thursday, Babchenko ridiculed those who alleged that the Ukrainian authorities carried out the operation “just for a laugh,” saying that Ukraine was in a state of war and perpetual crisis.
“They [Ukrainian authorities] are all, like, ‘We are kinda bored, we have nothing to do … Let’s paint Babchenko’s back with blood, make his face a giant bloodclot, take him to the morgue and say that it was like that from the beginning?’ And all these guys were like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it! Because we really have nothing else to do.’”
Babchenko, a critic of the Kremlin, added sarcastically: “Well, okay, if it happened in Russia – nothing there surprises me any more.”
The Russian journalist also hit out at press and others who questioned his journalistic ethics over the staged affair.
Responding to a link to a roundup of UK newspaper headlines posted by a commenter, Babchenko said: “Dear British press, please go f— yourself. 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.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Babchenko told reporters he’d had “no choice but to cooperate” with Ukrainian security services after they told him about the threat against him, and their elaborate plan to thwart it.
He also apologized to his wife, Olechka – who on Tuesday was reported to have found him bleeding to death at his apartment – for the “hell” she had gone through.
Ukrainian security services have two suspects in custody in connection with the plot to murder Babchenko, Larisa Sargan, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General, told CNN on Wednesday. They are suspected of being the person who ordered the hit and the person who pulle the trigger.
However, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Wednesday for Ukrainian authorities to disclose why an “extreme measure” such as staging Babchenko’s murder was necessary.
“We are relieved that Arkady Babchenko is alive,” said the watchdog’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Nina Ognianova, in a statement.
“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.”
The Russian government, meanwhile, accused the Ukrainian authorities of using Babchenko for anti-Russia propaganda purposes.
“That Babchenko is alive is the best news,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook. “Wish it was always like that. It’s too bad that in other cases, the masquerade didn’t quite come off.”
Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev compared the Babchenko case to the poisoning of a Russian former spy and his daughter in the UK, something used “by hook or by crook to defame Russia.”
CNN’s Nathan Hodge reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Mary Ilyushina, Sebastian Shukla and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.