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The bus with hostages stay on a road in the Western Ukrainian city of Lutsk The bus with hostages stay on a road in the Western Ukrainian city of Lutsk  (ANSA)

Ukraine hostage crisis ends peacefully

A hostage crisis in Ukraine ends with security forces freeing all 13 hostages unharmed from a bus in the western city of Lutsk. The gunman was detained after a bizarre intervention by the Ukrainian president, which involved showing a documentary on animal abuse.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Special security forces successfully ended the 12-hour hostage crisis, and pictures showed the gunman lying on the ground after his arrest.

During the standoff, the assailant fired his gun. A bullet reportedly narrowly missed Yevhen Koval, the first deputy chief of the national police, who delivered water to the hostages.

Just before the gunman's capture and release of the remaining hostages, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to comply with the assailant's demand: Posting online a short video, with the words: "Everyone should watch the 2005 film Earthlings."

The documentary, narrated by the American actor Joaquin Phoenix, depicts animals suffering in industrial agriculture and scientific research.

President Zelensky stressed that the gunman had been spoken to by a wide range of experts. Although a special assault operation was discussed, it was ruled out as too risky to the hostages.

Defending Facebook Post

He said he then agreed to speak to the gunman. They had a 7 to 10-minute conversation during which it was decided three people - a wounded person, a pregnant woman, and a child - would be released in exchange for posting the video. Soon after, the remaining ten hostages were also released.

President Zelensky defended his decision to comply with the hostage taker's demands and post the video on his Facebook page. "We have a result - everyone is alive. We are not fighting for (approval) ratings - we are fighting for life," Zelensky said.

And in separate remarks, he stressed: "These were obvious steps for me. If we can do anything without launching an assault, if we can avoid putting at least one life at risk, this are principles I live with, I lived with, and I will live with." 

All the hostages are unharmed. Police have named the gunman as Maksym Kryvosh, 44, who has previous convictions. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described him as unstable. "He is not a balanced person. He drew up his world in his head. Moreover, he came up with his revenge on this world formulated in theses," the minister explained to reporters.

He added that "accomplices have been detained, including a friend in the city of Kharkiv with whom the hostage-taker had business contacts." There, Avakov said, police "seized weapons, cartridges, and explosives."

Officials said Kryvosh had previously spent around ten years in prison on convictions including fraud and the illegal handling of weapons.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
22 July 2020, 17:09