Armed former convict holds 20 bus passengers hostage in Ukraine


Kiev (AFP)

Ukrainian police were holding tense negotiations Tuesday with a former convict armed with explosives who took 20 people hostage in a bus and claimed to have planted a remote-controlled device in the western city of Lutsk.

Police cordoned off the centre of Lutsk, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, and asked residents not to leave their homes or places of work.

Police said the SBU security services, which combat terrorism and are involved in counterintelligence, surrounded the bus after two shots were fired from it.

"The attacker threw a grenade from the bus, which, fortunately, did not detonate," a statement said.

Video footage and pictures published by local media showed heavily armed police surrounding a blue and white bus with several windows shattered and its curtains drawn.

The prosecutor general's office said the attacker claimed there was a separate explosive device located in a public place in the city of some 200,000 residents that could be detonated remotely.

The hostage-taker initially made contact with the police and identified himself as Maksym Plokhoy -- a pseudonym which translates to "bad Maxim" -- deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

Gerashchenko later said the man was later identified as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh from Russia's Orenburg region.

Kryvosh previously spent around 10 years in prison on a variety of convictions including fraud and illegal handling of weapons, Gerashchenko said.

He is believed to have undergone psychiatric treatment, police said.

Gerashchenko told AFP earlier that law enforcement was talking with Kryvosh in the hopes of resolving the crisis "through negotiations".

- 'Anti-system' -

Twitter deleted an account where posts under Plokhoy's name claimed he was armed, including with bombs.

The tweets described him as "anti-system" and made demands of the authorities. The interior ministry told AFP it believed the accounts were genuine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky described the hostage taking as "disturbing", adding: "Every effort is being made to resolve the situation without casualties".

At a press conference later on Tuesday, he said "professionals" were doing "everything" to free the hostages. He also confirmed that authorities had established a line of communication with Kryvosh, but did not elaborate.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov arrived in the region to coordinate the response the crisis.

Ukraine, which has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, has been struggling with a proliferation of illegal weapons.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting so far.

Police in late 2017 stormed a post office in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where an armed man claiming to be strapped with explosives captured 11 people.