Arkady Babchenko had reportedly been shot dead on Tuesday at his home in Kiev, but it turns out the Russian journalist and Kremlin critic is very much alive.

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko (C), who was reported murdered in the Ukrainian capital on May 29, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko (R) and head of the state security service (SBU) Vasily Gritsak attend a news briefing in Kiev, Ukraine on May 30, 2018.
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko (C), who was reported murdered in the Ukrainian capital on May 29, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko (R) and head of the state security service (SBU) Vasily Gritsak attend a news briefing in Kiev, Ukraine on May 30, 2018. (Reuters)

"Murdered" anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko appeared alive and well at a press conference in Kiev on Wednesday as Ukraine admitted it had faked his death to expose an alleged Russian plot to kill him.

Onlookers gasped and applauded as Babchenko appeared, introduced by the head of Ukraine's security service, who said the murder had been staged in order to foil an attempt on his life by Moscow.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Ukraine said the reporter had died from three gunshots to the back in the stairwell of his apartment building in a contract-style killing in a case that provoked an outpouring of grief and a diplomatic spat.

TRT World's Reagan Des Vignes reports.

"Thanks to this operation we were able to foil a cynical plot and document how the Russian security service was planning for this crime," security service head Vasyl Grytsak said at the press conference.

Grytsak announced authorities had arrested the alleged mastermind of the plot, saying a Ukrainian citizen named only by the initial G had offered to pay a hitman to carry out the killing after being recruited by Russian special forces and paid $40,000.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later met Babchenko and wrote triumphantly on Facebook that "millions of people are celebrating" the journalist's new lease of life.

The planned attack was "organised from Russian territory" with the aim of "destabilising the situation in Ukraine" and "killing one whom Russia fears most of all," he said.

"Thanks to Arkady and the Ukrainian security chiefs, for not allowing this scenario to be carried out in our country."

But Moscow, later on Wednesday, condemned the staged assassination, the foreign ministry saying "now the true motives are beginning to be revealed for this staging, which is totally obviously yet another anti-Russian provocation."

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it was "great news" that Babchenko was alive but on Twitter she slammed the "propagandistic effect" of the set-up.

Dan Ashby has more from Moscow.

Put wife through 'hell'

Grytsak, during his press conference, thanked Babchenko and his family, who he said were in the loop about the secret operation.

The reporter, however, apologised to his wife for putting her through "this hell she had to live through for three days ... but there was no other option."

He later defiantly promised on Twitter to "die at 96 after dancing on Putin's grave."

"God, it got so boring being dead," he wrote. "Good morning."

Babchenko, a former soldier in the Chechen war who became one of Russia's best-known war correspondents, left his homeland fearing for his life after criticising Russian policy in Ukraine and Syria.  He was denounced by pro-government politicians in Russia over comments on social media about the Russian bombing of Aleppo in Syria's war, and over his characterisation of Russia as an aggressor towards Ukraine.
Babchenko, a former soldier in the Chechen war who became one of Russia's best-known war correspondents, left his homeland fearing for his life after criticising Russian policy in Ukraine and Syria. He was denounced by pro-government politicians in Russia over comments on social media about the Russian bombing of Aleppo in Syria's war, and over his characterisation of Russia as an aggressor towards Ukraine. (Reuters)

News of the "death" of the prominent Russian war correspondent and former soldier set off a series of recriminations between Kiev and Moscow, and pictures and flowers were laid by mourners at the Russian embassy in Kiev.

Ukrainian officials led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman accused Russia of being behind the killing of the Kremlin critic, a charge that Moscow batted back.

'Pathetic stunt'

Reporters Without Borders also condemned the faked death.

"It is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive ... for the stunt," Christophe Deloire, the head of the Paris-based media watchdog, told AFP.

And Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, a former colleague of Babchenko, also questioned the value of the operation.

"To me, it's crossing a line big time. Babchenko is a journalist not a policeman, for Christ sake, and part of our job is trust, whatever Trump & Putin say about fake news," he wrote on Twitter.

"I'm glad he is alive, but he undermined even further the credibility of journalists and the media," he added.

Who is Arkady Babchenko?

Babchenko took part in the war in Chechnya as a soldier. He then became a war reporter for several Russian newspapers. On February 27 last year, he wrote on Facebook that he had left Russia.

He reported on Russia sending private military contractors to Syria and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 in July 2014 in eastern Ukraine, for which investigators last week held the Russian state responsible. 

Russian authorities again denied any connection with the plane's downing over an area of Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatist forces.

In his last Facebook post before he disappeared, Babchenko recalled an incident four years ago when he was meant to fly in a Ukrainian military helicopter in Ukraine's embattled Donbass region. The helicopter was overloaded and he was not permitted to fly. It was shot down and 14 people on board were killed.

"And I was lucky. Second birthday, it turns out," he wrote.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies