Russian journalists have been dying suspiciously since Putin came to power.
Since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, at least 34 Russian journalists have died, allegedly at the hand of military officials, government officials, or political groups.
Journalist Arkady Babchenko fled his country in 2017 after learning that a campaign was being waged against him by Russian officials. In December 2016, Babchenko had written a Facebook post — about the Kremlin’s actions in Aleppo, Syria — which was deemed “insufficiently patriotic” by authorities. Shortly after, the war correspondent took up residence in Kiev, Ukraine, to avoid becoming the next journalist to die under suspicious circumstances.
On May 29, Kiev police told reporters that Babchenko had been shot multiple times by a gunman when he left his apartment to buy bread. Reporters expressed sadness about the murder of another colleague.
The next day, however, Babchenko appeared alive and well at a police press conference, revealing that his death had been faked in order to uncover an assassination plot against him. He had kept the plan a secret for months, even from his family.
“I would like to apologize for what you have all had to go through,” Babchenko told reporters. “I’m sorry, but there was no other way of doing it. Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for the hell that she has been through.”
Vasyl Gritsak, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, said his agency faked Babchenko’s death as part of an elaborate sting. The operation led Gritsak and investigators to a Ukrainian citizen who had been paid $40,000 to kill Babchenko and then hired an acquaintance from separatist conflicts to pull the trigger.
At the end of his remarks to the press, Babchenko deployed some gallows humor to lighten the mood. “I’ve done my work,” he said. “I’m still alive for the moment.”