The news was grim. It was a murder. The apparent victim: Russian soldier-turned-reporter Arkady Babchenko. Obituaries were written, memorials were erected, and mourners gathered outside of his apartment.
And, then, something utterly remarkable happened. Babchenko appeared, alive, at a press conference about his own death.
Journalists gasped and then applauded as the supposedly dead Babchenko, known for his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and investigations of Russia’s foreign incursions, explained that his “murder” had actually been part of a months-long operation staged by Ukraine’s security services. The bizarre exercise immediately escalated tensions between Kiev and Moscow, with Ukraine accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating Babchenko’s murder before disclosing that his death had been faked.
The episode seemed to accentuate the smoke-and-mirrors atmosphere hanging over eastern Europe and Russia—a place where disinformation seems to flow freely, and Russia, which maintains an entrenched presence in eastern Ukraine, has long depended on propaganda to draw support from pro-Russian separatists and attack the pro-Western Ukrainian government. The Kremlin has not been the only entity to criticize Ukraine’s decision to fake the prominent journalist’s death—while Ukrainian officials celebrated the operation, many journalists and civil groups decried what they saw as the government’s manipulation of the truth in what is already a fragile moment for the media.