Prominent Russian journalist and Putin critic Arkady Babchenko killed in Kyiv

A prominent Russian journalist and critic of President Vladimir Putin was gunned down in Ukraine where he had fled into exile following threats, police say.

Well-known war correspondent and ex-soldier fled to Ukraine amid death threats

Russian opposition journalist Arkady Babchenko, seen here during a 2017 memorial for another slain Russian journalist, Pavel Sheremet, was shot and killed in Kyiv on Tuesday. (Inna Sokolovska/EPA-EFE)

Since this story reporting that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko had been killed in Ukraine, he appeared at a news conference to declare he was very much alive. The Ukrainian Security Service says it faked Babchenko's death to catch those who were allegedly trying to kill him. The updated story is here.

A prominent Russian journalist and critic of President Vladimir Putin was gunned down in Ukraine where he had fled into exile following threats, police said on Tuesday.

Arkady Babchenko died of his wounds — multiple gunshots to his back — in an ambulance after his wife found him covered in his blood in their home, police said, adding they suspected the killing was linked to Babchenko's professional activities.

Babchenko, one of Russia's best-known war correspondents, had left Russia fearing for his life after criticizing Russian policy in Ukraine and Syria.

He had been denounced by pro-government politicians in Russia over comments on social media about the Russian bombing of Syria, and over his characterization of Russia as an aggressor toward Ukraine.

"The first version is his professional activity," said Kyiv police Chief Andriy Kryshchenko on the TV news channel 112, when asked what police suspected was behind the shooting. 

Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said he was "horrified" by Babchenko's death.

"I call on Ukraine authorities to conduct immediate & full investigation," he tweeted.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York said on Twitter that "Ukrainian authorities should conduct a swift and thorough investigation" into Babchenko's death.

A police officer guards near the apartment block where Babchenko was shot. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Two years ago, Pavel Sheremet, a Belarussian journalist known for his criticism of his home country's leadership and his friendship with the slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was blown up in a car bomb in central Kyiv.

In March 2017, renegade Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed at the entrance of an upscale hotel in Kyiv. Ukrainian prosecutors alleged that Voronenkov, who had toed the Kremlin line while serving as a Russian lawmaker but turned into a Kremlin critic after his 2016 move to Ukraine, was killed on orders from a Russian crime lord.

A Ukrainian lawmaker who serves as an adviser to the interior minister said on Facebook that investigators would be looking at "Russian spy agencies' efforts to get rid of those who are trying to tell the truth about what is going on in Russia and Ukraine."

"Putin's regime is aimed at those who cannot be broken or intimidated," wrote Anton Gerashchenko, calling Babchenko "a consistent opponent of the Putin regime and a friend of Ukraine."

In Moscow, officials and lawmakers criticized Ukrainian authorities for their alleged failure to protect journalists.

"Ukraine is becoming the most dangerous country for reporters," Russian lawmaker Yevgeny Revenko said in remarks carried by the state RIA Novosti news agency. "The Ukrainian government can't guarantee basic freedoms."

Babchenko served in the Russian army and fought during the first separatist war in Chechnya during the 1990s. He later became a journalist and worked as a military correspondent for several Russian media outlets. He also published several books based on his wartime experiences.

Some of his articles and posts outraged many Russians. In one, he said he felt no regret about the deaths of Russian army choir members and others from a December 2016 plane crash as they were heading to perform before Russian troops in Syria. Some even called for stripping Babchenko of his Russian citizenship.

Babchenko left Russia in February 2017, saying he was receiving threats and concerned he might be jailed.

He moved to Kyiv last fall, where he worked as a host for the Crimean Tatar TV station, ATR.

With files from The Associated Press