By PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News
(MOSCOW) — A tense day-long stand-off between Ukrainian police and a heavily armed man who took 13 people hostage on board a bus in western Ukraine has ended after police detained the gunman and all the hostages were released.
Authorities had been negotiating with the man for most of Tuesday after he boarded the bus and told police he had rigged the vehicle with explosives and was taking the passengers hostage. Police launched a major operation, cordoning off the bus in a main square and officers trained guns on it. Several shots were fired throughout the day and there had been fears the stand-off could end in a bloodbath.
By late evening though, the gunman surrendered. Video broadcast live by Ukrainian media at the scene showed special forces officers on an armored car racing up to the bus where a police negotiator was already standing. Afterwards, hostages were seen being led from the bus.
Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko posted photographs on his Facebook page showing the suspected gunman face down on the ground surrounded by officers, as well as video of exhausted-looking hostages walking away from the bus.
The stand-off finally ended shortly after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the gunman and fulfilled one of his demands — to post a video in which he called on people to watch the 2005 documentary film, ‘Earthlings.” A film by that name in 2005, directed by Shaun Monson and narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, depicts human’s exploitation of animals.
Zelenskiy posted a video telling people to watch the film on his official Facebook account, as well as some posts from the gunman with another demand that top Ukrainian officials, Orthodox church leaders and prominent oligarchs make video statements in which they would call themselves “terrorists.”
Ukrainian officials afterwards said an agreement had been reached with the gunman during a 15-minute phone-call with Zelenskiy, whereby he would surrender if Zelenskiy posted the video.
Immediately after the gunman was detained the posts were deleted from Zelenskiy’s Facebook page.
Shortly before the stand-off ended, the gunman had freed 3 female hostages, who were allowed to walk to safety with a senior police commander, Evgeny Koval. Koval, deputy head of Ukraine’s National Police, approached the bus repeatedly to negotiate. On one occasion video showed the gunman fired a shot over Koval’s head.
Not long after that and after Zelenskiy posted the video, the gunman surrendered.
Zelenskiy hailed the end of the siege afterwards in a statement on his Telegram channel, praising rescuers.
“The life of a person is the most important value. We have lost no one. Today the family and friends can be with everyone who suffered through the day in the bus under the gun sight. Terrorism has not place in any country,” Zelenskiy wrote.
Police identified the hostage-taker as Maksym S. Kryvosh, 44, originally born in Russia. Local media have reported that Kryvosh’s parents had lived in Lutsk. According to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, Kriyvosh has previously been convicted twice by a court in the city in 1994 and 2005 of serious crimes, including fraud and illegal possession of arms and explosives. He has spent a total of 10 years in prison, deputy interior minister Gerashchenko said.
The stand-off began mid-morning when the gunman called police from the bus saying he was hijacking it and that he had a large amount of explosives. He claimed to also have planted a bomb in another part of the city which he said he could detonate remotely.
The gunman introduced himself to police as “Maksym Plokhoy” and posted demands on social media accounts under that name.
The posts included the demands that the heads of numerous Ukrainian government and judicial bodies, as well as Orthodox church leaders and prominent oligarchs make videos where they would say there were terrorists. In the posts, he wished people “Happy Anti-System Day” and wrote that the state was a terrorist. Among the texts were also the demand that Zelenskiy speak about the film.
In a video on the page, a man believed to be Kryvosh sits in a black beret while holding a cut-down assault rifle.
A few hours after the stand-off began, authorities in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv said police had disarmed two explosive devices at a market in the city. Local media reported that several more bomb threats were also called into public buildings in Kyiv and the eastern city Kharkiv. Avakov, however, told reporters that the explosives found in Kyiv were not connected to the hostage-taking in Lutsk.
“Everyday we find explosives, some kind of weapons,” he said. “It’s doesn’t have any relation to this.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.