The Russian journalist who staged his own death in a sting with Ukrainian authorities described how he was smeared with pig's blood and taken to a morgue to prevent the Russian conspiracy from him.
Reporter Arkady Babchenko revealed the details of the operation to reporters in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Thursday, a day after the SBU spy agency in Ukraine announced that Babchenko's obvious killing was in truth a cunning ruse.
"I just stopped being scared in the morgue," he said.
On Thursday, Babchenko reported that the operation had staged every step of an actual assassination. On Tuesday, the police of Ukraine said that Babtschenko had been shot dead in his apartment house. His wife found him bloodied with several gunshot wounds. She called an ambulance and he was declared dead before he reached the hospital. In the social media of Ukraine appeared a photo on which Babchenko's "corpse" lay in a pool of blood with three bullet holes in his back, while the police published a sketch of a suspected "suspect".
Babchenko said on Thursday that he and the Ukrainian police had simulated each of these steps. At first he said that a make-up artist arrived at his home and he started to fall down.
"It was all real, I made the shirt with bullet holes and I lay down on the floor, they poured blood on me, I put some in my mouth and let it out," Babchenko said.
His wife, whom Babchenko said was in delusion, pretended to see him die and called an ambulance. Real paramedics came and took him to the ambulance, which drove to the hospital and reported that Babchenko had died on the way. He said that a doctor had registered his death and that he had been taken to the morgue.
"I lay there pretending I was the murder victim, like a dead man, they came to the morgue, they put me on the tray, the doors were closed behind me, and then I was revived." I switched on the TV I sat down and saw news of my "murder". "
He said he was taken to a safe place, with the whole operation going on until 5 o'clock in the morning. Until the last moment, he said, he had feared that the operation would fall apart.
Babchenko's "killing" was considered real by his friends and colleagues and around the world. For the reporter, known as the war correspondent and uncompromising critic of the Kremlin, obituaries were written and posthumous tributes flooded in Russian newspapers. Foreign officials expressed their condolences and there were demands that the killers be found.
Barely 24 hours later, he reappeared and spoke with stunning reporters at a press conference.
He smiled lightly and shrugged, apologized to his wife and colleagues, and said the deception was necessary to save his life and catch the real conspirators.
Ukraine's SBU security services said two men, one of whom allegedly received $ 40,000 from Russian spies, were arrested as part of the spike. The SBU said the operation had also caught the Kremlin's efforts to assassinate opponents in the Ukraine.
However, Ukraine has been criticized since the extreme method. Critics said that this posed a threat to the credibility of the media and played into the hands of the Kremlin, which regularly tried to stage attacks on its opponents.
"It was depressing and regrettable that the Ukrainian police were playing with the truth," said Christophe Deloire, the head of Reporters Without Borders, a group campaigning for the rights of journalists. "Was such a plan really necessary? There can be no reason to fake the death of a journalist."
Many of Babtschenko's colleagues, who were happy about his survival, said that confusion and doubt as to whether the exotic method was necessary had been cut.
Babchenko "emerged victorious from the tomb, and now he owes many of his friends a vodka, time and a few words in response to what was written in the obituaries," wrote Kirill Martynov, political editor of the Russian investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Babchenko had worked and lost the six of her journalists in real assassinations.
Babchenko, however, was unapologetic and said those who criticized the operation had never been in his position.
"When someone comes to you and says there's an order for you to kill, you proudly say," I think of the media's call! Let me get killed! Go on! "He said.
For details about the alleged Russian contract about him and how the false death had helped the Ukrainian agents, Babtschenko said he had no idea and left it to the security services.
Babchenko said he has the option to refuse the operation when the SBU informed him a month ago about the alleged Russian plot. He said his first thought was "to collect my things and get lost somewhere in the North Pole, but then I realized, where are you hiding?" Skripal also tried to hide. "
Sergei Skripal is a former Russian double agent who was almost killed in March when he was poisoned in the UK with a nerve agent. British authorities have blamed this attack on Russia.
The Kremlin claimed that an attack was also staged and critics have warned that Operation "Babtschenko" gives ammunition to the Kremlin for such demands that have become a standard part of Russian denials about attacks on its opponents.
Other journalists have warned that the operation puts journalists in greater danger by allowing repressive governments to claim that killings are simply counterfeits.
Ukrainian authorities have defended the operation, stressing that it has kept Babchenko alive. In the past two years, there have been a number of attacks in Ukraine, including last year's volatile Russian MP Denis Voronenko, who was shot dead in the center of Kiev after defecting to Ukraine.
"The hybrid war the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine calls for unorthodox approaches and countermeasures," said the Embassy of Ukraine in London.
Others noted that there were a number of precedents for such operations, albeit very few. AFP recalled the case of the Romanian dissident Virgil Tanase, whose French security services claimed to kidnap him to thwart his assassination by the then Romanian communist government in 1982.
Some of Babchenko's colleagues said it mattered a great deal whether Ukraine could provide evidence that the operation was necessary.
"However, we hope that in a future courtroom, the facts that deserve such sacrifices from Babtschenko and his family really come to the table, anyway, living people are better than dead." Martynov, the Novaya Gazeta journalist, wrote.