The Russian journalist who faked his own death in a sting operation planned by Ukrainian authorities said he was smeared in pig’s blood and even taken to a morgue to pull off the elaborate ruse.
Arkady Babchenko, 41, told reporters in Kiev Thursday that the “murder” was staged to capture the person who allegedly hired a hitman to kill him.
Babchenko, a war reporter and stridently anti-Kremlin journalist who fled Russia in February because of death threats, was reported by police at a news conference on Tuesday to have been fatally shot three times in the back outside his apartment.
Even his wife, who found him bleeding, was not part of the plot, and thought the shooting was real. Police said he “died” in an ambulance that took him to the hospital.
Babchenko said he could have refused when Ukrainian security service officials approached him with the idea to fake his death about a month ago, but instead quickly agreed.
He said Ukrainian security officials told him at the time that the Russian security services had ordered him killed the previous month. To which Babchenko had one question: “I said, “Great, why have you been waiting for a month?’”
Babchenko said the plot included a makeup artist, getting smeared in pig’s blood and a trip to the morgue. Officers had even fired shots through his sweatshirt to make it look real.
The fake murder was revealed Wednesday at a news conference, where Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Gritsak announced that Babchenko was alive by inviting him into the room to the gasps of fellow journalists.
Gritsak said the organizer of the hit had allegedly been paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to find someone to carry out the killing. After Ukrainian police learned of the scheme, they turned a hired hit man into a double agent to entrap the organizer.
Authorities said Babchenko was to be the first of 30 killings ordered among Russians in Ukraine.
Babchenko said he was worried the entire time the operation would fall through. “I only stopped being afraid at the morgue,” he said.
He said he washed off the fake blood and dressed himself in a sheet. “Then I watched the news and saw what a great guy I had been,” he said, referring to the tributes by colleagues who thought he was dead.
Asked about his immediate plans, Babchenko said: “I plan to get some decent sleep, maybe get drunk, and then wake up in two or three days.”
Some journalism organizations have criticized the use of police to mount a hoax, regardless of the intent.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, on Twitter, called for an explanation of “what necessitated the extreme measure” and called it an “unprecedented situation.”
Christophe Deloire, general secretary of Reporters Without Borders, said the organization expressed its “deepest indignation after discovering the manipulation of the Ukrainian secret services.”
“It is always very dangerous for a government to play with the facts, especially using journalists for their fake stories,” he said.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, however, lashed out at the criticism.
“What would you want? That Babchenko had been killed?” he said.
As for Babchenko, who has since been offered Ukrainian citizenship, the journalist snapped back at several British news organization that criticized the staging of a fake murder.
“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,” Babchenko said, according to CNN.
Contributing: Associated Press