Ukraine president defends movie post to end hostage crisis


Kiev (AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday defended his decision to agree to a hostage-taker's bizarre demand that he post a movie recommendation to end a 12-hour stand-off.

Zelensky described how he negotiated personally on Tuesday evening with a gunman who was holding 13 hostages on a bus in the western city of Lutsk.

"We have a result - everyone is alive. We are not fighting for (approval) ratings - we are fighting for life," Zelensky said in a statement of his decision, as some criticised him for giving in to the gunman's demands.

The SBU security service said all 13 hostages were released unharmed after a police stand-off with the man, who had threatened to detonate an explosive device.

The tense hostage situation ended after the president agreed to post a recommendation of a 2005 US documentary narrated by actor Joaquin Phoenix called "Earthlings," which condemns humans' mistreatment of animals.

Zelensky said he agreed with the hostage-taker, identified as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh, that "he would release three people, and after that I would record a video."

- 'This is a mistake' -

The armed man complied and freed three hostages: a man, a pregnant woman and a child.

In response, the president posted a video message on Facebook and Kryvosh agreed to release all his captives half an hour later, Zelensky said.

The gunman is currently being held in a temporary detention centre, police reported.

The president later deleted the short video from his account.

The SBU security service classed the incident as an "act of terror" and "hostage-taking" and Kryvosh could face up to 15 years in prison.

Some Ukrainians criticised Zelensky for the move, which many compared to an episode of the popular British television series "Black Mirror" where a British prime minister fulfils the grotesque demands of a kidnapper holding a member of the British royal family.

Natalia Delgyado, a Kiev-based Facebook user, wondered "whether Zelensky would have fulfilled the terrorist's demands if he had demanded public sex with a pig like in the plot of the Black Mirror episode".

But another Facebook user, Eduard Runin, from Kharkiv, praised Zelensky for choosing the option of "fulfilling the demands of a terrorist and keeping people alive."