Police Free Hostages From Bus in Western Ukraine, No Casualties

KYIV (Reuters) -
Ukrainian law enforcement officers lie on the ground behind a car near a passenger bus, which was seized by an unidentified person in the city of Lutsk, Ukraine July 21, 2020. (Reuters/Tetiana Hrishyna)

All 13 people taken hostage on a bus in western Ukraine by a man armed with guns and a grenade were freed on Tuesday evening after a standoff with police ended without casualties, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.

Police have arrested the suspected hostage taker, whom the state security service (SBU) identified as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh. Avakov said Kryvosh had served time in prison and the SBU said had propagated “extremist views”.

In a surreal twist to secure the hostages’ release, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he spoke to Kryvosh by phone and agreed to one of his demands, to promote a 2005 animal rights documentary.

Zelenskiy did so in a six-second clip posted on the presidential social media page, which was subsequently deleted.

“I congratulate all those who fought all day for the release of the people in Lutsk and, in fact, for their lives,” Zelenskiy said in a statement after the hostages were freed.

The SBU published a picture of Kryvosh sprawled on the ground with security personnel standing over him after his arrest. Avakov said an accomplice of Kryvosh was detained in the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Police had blocked off the city center with armed officers, cars and an armored personnel carrier while they tried to persuade Kryvosh to free the hostages in a day-long stand-off.

Photos showed a small bus parked in the middle of an empty street, with at least two windows smashed and others covered with curtains. Police said Kryvosh threw a grenade out of the bus; Avakov said Kryvosh had fired shots out of the bus at police.

In posts on social media, Kryvosh had demanded that senior Ukrainian officials publish statements saying that they were terrorists. He also threatened to detonate a bomb in a crowded place.

Zelenskiy said he had spoken to Kryvosh for around 7-10 minutes and persuaded him to release three of the hostages, including an expectant woman. After that, Zelenskiy agreed to publish the short video clip of him saying, “Everyone should watch” the film.