Journalists in Ukraine celebrate colleague's 'resurrection'

Kiev (AFP) –


Dozens of journalists descended upon the central square in Kiev late Wednesday, laughing, hugging and quaffing sparkling wine as they celebrated the "resurrection" of their Russian colleague and Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko.

Ukraine authorities had announced the "murder" of Babchenko late Tuesday, prompting an outpouring of grief and condemnation, and mutual accusations between Kiev and Moscow.

Then on Wednesday the Ukraine security services revealed that Babchenko was alive and well and that his "murder" had been staged as a sting to catch the masterminds behind a real plot to assassinate him on orders of the Russian security services.

"It's an incredible story of a resurrection," joked Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin who like several of his Russian colleagues had rushed to Kiev to cover the story.

"It's a miracle, but a miracle that turned out to be a staged drama".

Babchenko himself was in a meeting with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko as the group of journalists from local and international media popped corks and took selfies.

"We were preparing for the funeral, Many of us didn't sleep last night. We bought plane tickets for the first flight to Kiev," said Kanygin, who works for the investigative Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

He was at the offices of the Ukrainian private television ATR, where Babchenko works, when the "murdered" journalist made his surprise reappearance.

"Everybody just erupted, shouting 'hooray, he's alive,' it was an incredible moment," he said.

Igor Solovey, international editor for the Ukrainian news website, was all smiles as he stood in the square with a cigarette in his mouth and a plastic glass of bubbly in his hand.

"I just turned on the TV and saw his magical appearance," he said. "It was a shock. I was standing, I had to sit down. I couldn't even speak!"

Some in the news business wondered about the impact that Ukraine's ruse will have on the media, in particular in public confidence in their work.

"For 24 hours we were putting out fake news," one editor said.

"Obviously some think this will damage confidence in the special services, the security services and the media," said Kanygin.

"Our readers or viewers are of course going to ask questions when we cry wolf".

Solovey was looking on the bright side; "It's to the credit of Ukraine's special services that they saved a good man's life."