KYIV -- Outside the apartment where Arkady Babchenko wasn’t killed, people wept as though he was.
They brought flowers to a makeshift memorial to honor the famed Russian reporter who was, in fact, not dead.
But they hadn’t been told that yet. Nobody had.
Ukrainian security officials had announced late on May 29 that Babchenko, a fierce critic of the Kremlin and a veteran Russian war correspondent, had been killed -- shot three times in the back as he returned to his Kyiv apartment after buying bread.
Less than 20 hours later, officials revealed he was, in fact, alive, and that his death had been staged as part of a sting to thwart an alleged assassination plot.
The initial news sent shock waves across Ukraine and Russia, where dozens of journalists have been targeted for assassination for their work. The later news that it was fake sent yet more shock waves, including for those who were still mourning Babchenko.
Olha, a pensioner who lives in a sixth-floor apartment across the hall from Babchenko, said she had spent much of the day crying, speaking to journalists, and being questioned by police, who asked what she might have seen or heard.
When she turned on a broadcast of the press conference at which Ukrainian officials revealed the hoax, and Babchenko himself appeared, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Thank God he’s alive,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes and hugging a visiting reporter. “Are you sure it’s true? What about the blood?”
For much of the night after reports of Babchenko’s death were announced, and into the following day, people gathered in the apartment building's courtyard to place flowers and photographs and to mourn the reporter. Others like Olha were still frightened that the alleged killer was still at large and asked that their names not be revealed.
Yulia Volodymyrivna, Babchenko’s downstairs neighbor, said she was terrified by reports that a gunman had been in the building.
She said the sound of three bullets being fired into the back of Babchenko had been stuck in her mind since the previous evening. She also admitted to hearing no such shots.
The initial reports of Babchenko’s death reverberated in the Russian capital, where friends and fans gathered at the Moscow bridge where Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down in 2015.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian and Kyiv-based journalists mourned Babchenko and then began interviewing witnesses and gathering security video from businesses and residences in the area, in an effort to help solve his would-be murder. It was an effort born out of frustration with the death of another reporter, Pavel Sheremet, who died in a July 2016 car bombing in Kyiv.
At the news conference in Kyiv where they revealed the plot, Babchenko emerged to gasps and applause from reporters, who were dumbstruck by the news.
The chief of Ukraine's security service (SBU), Vasiliy Hrytsak, defended the need for deception, telling reporters it had helped the agency identify and catch the person who he said had promised a Ukrainian war veteran $30,000 to assassinate Babchenko. A further 10,000 was also reportedly paid to this person for mediating the killing
Hrytsak said the Russian security services were behind the plot and that his agents had apprehended the organizer. He showed a video of them taking a short, overweight man into custody on May 30.
Russia denied any involvement in any murder plot, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said Moscow was glad to hear Babchenko was alive, but also criticized Ukraine for staging a “provocation.”
Babchenko, for his part, apologized for being part of the deception, but said it was necessary.
“Sorry for imposing this upon you, but there was no other way,” he said. “Special apologies to my wife for the hell she’s been through these two days.”