Arkady Babchenko: Anti-Putin journalist faked his own death using pig's blood and makeup artist

Dissident watched reports of his murder from morgue during Ukrainian sting operation

Chris Baynes
Friday 01 June 2018 08:42
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Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko speaks during an interview with foreign media in Kiev on 31 May
Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko speaks during an interview with foreign media in Kiev on 31 May

A Russian dissident journalist who faked his own death in Ukraine said he used pig’s blood and a makeup artist to stage his supposed killing, in order to evade an assassination plot.

After being found seemingly shot dead in his apartment, Arkady Babchenko was taken by ambulance to a morgue where he changed his clothes and watched news coverage of his murder.

The Kremlin critic stunned the world by walking into a press conference on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he was reported dead.

Ukrainian security forces claimed they staged his murder in a sting operation to foil and catch hitmen working under Moscow’s orders.

Mr Babchenko, who has faced criticism for taking part in the plot organised by Ukrainian officials, said he agreed to the ruse because he feared for his life after agents told him Russian security services had placed an order for his killing.

“My first reaction was: ‘To hell with you, I want to pack a bag and disappear to the North Pole,’” he told a press conference in Kiev on Thursday.

“But then I realised, where do you hide? Skripal also tried to hide,” he added, referring to the Russian ex-spy who was poisoned in Salisbury in March.

Mr Babchenko, who fled Russia in February last year following death threats, added: “Everyone who says this undermines trusts in journalists: what would you do in my place, if they came to you and said there is a hit out on you?”

Disclosing new details about how the deception was carried out, the 41-year-old said a makeup artist came to his apartment to make him look as though he had been shot. He was given a T-shirt with bullet holes in it to wear and pig’s blood was poured over him.

Mr Babchenko said he played dead while medics – who were in on the ruse – transported him to hospital in an ambulance, certified him as dead and sent him to a morgue.

“Once the gates of the morgue closed behind me, I was resurrected,” he said, recalling how he washed off the blood and wrapped himself in a sheet.

“Then I watched the news and saw what a great guy I had been,” he joked, referring to tributes paid to him in the media after his death was widely reported.

Kiev police reported on Tuesday that Mr Babchenko had been shot in his apartment building and found by his wife.

Lurid pictures of him apparently lying in a pool of blood were published across the world, as Ukraine accused Russia of his assassination.

The next day, Mr Babchenko appeared in public alive and Ukrainian security forces said they had faked his death to thwart and expose his planned killing.

During a news conference to discuss the killing, Ukrainian security service chief Vasyl Gritsak revealed that Mr Babchenko was alive by inviting him into the room, stunning fellow journalists. Mr Babchenko said even his wife had believed he was dead.

A Ukrainian citizen who was allegedly paid $40,000 (£30,000) by the Russian security service to organise and carry out the hit has been arrested, Mr Gritsak said. The man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman, he added.

Moscow has described the allegations as part of an anti-Russian smear campaign, mocking Ukraine for solving a murder it staged itself.

Some diplomats and commentators said the operation to fake the journalist’s death had hurt Kiev’s credibility and handed the Kremlin a propaganda gift.

“Relieved that Arkady Babchenko is alive,” tweeted Harlem Desir, spokesperson for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “[But] I deplore the decision to spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the duty of the state to provide correct information to the public.”

A senior EU diplomat in Kiev said Ukraine’s actions were understandable but called on authorities to provide more information about what had happened.

“No one is angry, unlike some in other places, but we hope Ukraine understands that international goodwill is a finite resource – even if they are right and it’s a war against a superior enemy,” the unnamed diplomat told Reuters.

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

Asked about his next steps, the host for Crimean TV station ATR said: “I plan to get some decent sleep, maybe get drunk, and then wake up in two or three days.”

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