RFE/RL: Exiled Russian journalist Babchenko leaves Ukraine indefinitely

09:55, 04 November 2019
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Arkadiy Babchenko / Photo from UNIAN

In a Facebook post published over the weekend, Arkadiy Babchenko gave a vague reason for his departure that implied growing anxiety over his safety after the election of Volodymyr Zelensky as president in April, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

He referred to a social-media post he made six months ago about "scramming" if Ukraine "chooses candidate X in the presidential election."

He continued: "I'm talking about the general trend in the country.... I wrote this exactly six months ago. I said it, [now] I did it. So, what's the problem?"

Babchenko, 42, said he merely changed places with Andriy Portnov, an ally of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who returned to Ukraine after this year's presidential election.

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Yanukovych and other senior members of his administration fled to Russia after the 2014 pro-democracy Euromaidan movement.

"Portnov arrived – Babchenko departed. One troublemaker replaced the other," the journalist said while not mentioning his current location.

Babchenko said that he'll now "stand beyond the fence," while adding that "Ukraine is now just a flood of insurgents," in apparent reference to the war in eastern Ukraine with Russia-led forces.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) on May 29, 2018, staged an assassination of Babchenko as part of a sting operation to catch people involved in an alleged Russian plot to kill him.

The SBU never presented direct evidence linking Moscow to the alleged plot.

On August 30, 2018 a court in Kyiv sentenced Ukrainian national Boris German to 4 1/2 years in prison as the man whom Russian secret services allegedly recruited to organize the murder plot.

Then-SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said that German had pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the authorities.

German is alleged to have promised $40,000 to a would-be assassin for the killing of Babchenko.

The alleged would-be killer, a former Ukrainian monk turned army veteran named Oleksiy Tsymbalyuk, said he went to the SBU after German approached him.

Tsymbalyuk said he worked with the agency to foil the plot.

The SBU operation of faking Babchenko's death was heavily criticized by media watchdogs, journalists, and others who said it undermined the credibility of journalists and of Ukrainian officials.

In his departure post, Babchenko said he still had plans to drive down Moscow's main thoroughfare, Tverskaya Street, in an Abrams tank, "just as I had promised."

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