A Russian journalist living in exile was shot and killed on Tuesday in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
According to the Russian news agency RIA, Babchenko was shot in the back several times in the stairwell of his apartment house. The Kiev police chief told the Ukrainian television station 112 that the obvious motive for the murder was Babchenko’s professional activity.
The Russian internet news site Kommersant, citing a source close to the Ukrainian prosecution, reported that the assassination was “almost certainly a provocation by outside parties.” But an hour later, the report had been removed from the site.
His wife was also at home when the shooting occurred, media reports said.
Babchenko was considered one of the most prominent critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. In recent years, most of his journalistic reports and opinion pieces have been published on his Facebook page, which has almost 200,000 followers.
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On Monday, Babchenko tweeted, “When a confidant of the president publicly suggests murdering you,” along with a link to a Facebook page that is currently not accessible. According to the internet news site Meduza, the link referred to journalist and activist Marina Yudenich, who proposed on her blog a few years ago that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov “invite Babchenko to a tea party.”
Meduza also said that calls to kill Babchenko had been published on social media by separatists from the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, two Russian-backed breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, as well as on the Facebook page of The Other Russia, an incarnation of the National Bolshevik party, which has been declared illegal in Russia.
Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, blamed Babchenko’s murder on the Russian government. “Putin’s regime takes aim at people whom it’s impossible to break or intimidate,” he wrote on his Facebook page. He said that Babchenko was shot in the stairwell of his apartment building as he was coming home from a shopping trip.
In his last Facebook post, on Tuesday, Babchenko recalled how a Ukrainian general had refused to allow him, in his capacity as a journalist, to board a plane flying to eastern Ukraine. The plane ended up being downed by the separatists. “So today is my second birthday,” Babchenko wrote.
Babchenko left Russia in early 2017 after being warned that the government was angry with him over a Facebook post about the crash of a Russian plane en route to Syria. There were 92 people aboard the plane, including members of the Red Army Choir.
“I was called and warned a few times,” Babchenko said in an interview with Haaretz magazine in the summer of 2017, while he was visiting Tel Aviv. “The first time, they warned me that there would be persecution in the wake of my post – and everything went as scheduled: Over the weekend, a campaign was launched against me and against [the journalist and blogger] Bozhena Rynska, with suggestions ‘to shoot us like mad dogs.’ The second time, I was warned that provocations were liable to occur on February 7, and that this time the use of force was also a possibility. Again everything played out on schedule. That day, searches were conducted at five places. They broke into the apartment of [activist] Mark Gelperin; he jumped out the window, but they caught him and took him to Lubyanka [prison], just as one would have expected. They didn’t come to me that day.”
After the third warning, in which he was told the authorities were considering opening a criminal investigation against him, Babchenko decided to leave Russia. Over the last year, he has lived in Prague, Tel Aviv and, for the past several months, Ukraine.