Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko has revealed how Ukrainian authorities faked his death on Tuesday as part of a sting operation to foil an alleged Russian assassination plot.
Pig’s blood and a make-up artist were used to pull off the stunt, he said at a press conference in Kiev on Thursday.
Ukraine has been sharply criticised for the hoax, with critics saying it gives Russia – which it blamed for the fake murder – the moral high ground.
Russia called it an act of provocation.
Ukrainian police have arrested one man, who works for a Ukrainian-German arms producing company. It is alleged he was hired by Russian security forces to find hitmen to assassinate Mr Babchenko.
Mr Babchenko said the arrested man had paid out for the assassination once the news of the “killing” had been made public.
However, a hired hitman had earlier gone to the Ukrainian security forces, alerting them to the assassination plot, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia’s foreign ministry condemned the staged murder, calling it “obviously yet another anti-Russian provocation”.
The former war correspondent, who fled Russia in 2017, was unapologetic for going along with the Ukrainian security forces’ plan to stage his death.
“My goal was to stay alive and ensure the safety of my family,” Mr Babchenko, an anchor on Ukrainian TV, said in response to criticism that his faked death compromised journalistic ethics. “It was my choice, I could have refused.”
However, he decided against fleeing Ukraine after hearing of the threat against his life, referencing the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal who was recently poisoned with a nerve agent in the UK.
“I realised that there is nowhere to flee. Skripal fled to England and, as far as I understand, was guarded there. But they got him even there.”
His closest relatives were in on the hoax, including his wife, who had returned from a trip to Moscow on Monday, Mr Babchenko said.
On Tuesday evening, dressed in a bullet-torn shirt and covered in pig’s blood, Mr Babchenko played dead while he was taken from the scene at his home in an ambulance whose crew knew of the operation.
Neighbours later told local media they saw an ambulance drive away at 20:30 local time (17:30 GMT) but no-one had heard gunshots.
Doctors, also in on the hoax, pronounced him dead. From the morgue, where he changed clothes, Mr Babchenko watched television reports on his death until he was taken to a safe house.
“I was not in charge of the operation,” the Russian journalist explained. “It was not me who decided how it would be done. It was not me who thought out how to get the maximum amount of evidence and catch the person red-handed.”
With police announcing his death, it appeared as if the assassination had been completed, and Mr Babchenko said: “The person paid money for a completed crime. He was caught red-handed.”