LUTSK, Ukraine (AP) — An “unstable” armed man who seized more than a dozen hostages on a long-distance bus in Ukraine’s western city of Lutsk was detained late Tuesday after a standoff that lasted for over 12 hours and all hostages were freed unharmed, officials said.
The assailant agreed to release the hostages following a 15-minute phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff Kyrylo Tymoshenko told reporters.
Shortly after the call, Zelenskiy posted a brief video message on his Facebook page to urge Ukrainians to watch “Earthlings,” a 2005 American documentary exposing humanity’s cruel exploitation of animals – as the hostage-taker had wanted.
Minutes later, the assailant walked out of the bus and surrendered to the police. Authorities said all 13 hostages he held were freed and no one was hurt.
Earlier, following negotiations with the first deputy chief of national police, Yevhen Koval, the man had released three of the hostages, including a pregnant woman. At one point during the conversation, he fired his gun through the bus window and a bullet narrowly missed Koval, who also brought water for the hostages.
After the drama ended, Zelenskiy hailed law enforcement officers for saving the hostages.
“Human life is the most important value,” he said on Facebook. “Now families can finally hug their relatives who spent the entire day on the bus in anguish.”
Speaking to reporters, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the assailant as “an unstable man who painted his vision of the world and invented a revenge for it.”
“He had his own vision of justice and the value of human life,” Avakov said.
Ukrainian media said the man was an animal rights activists who helped protect stray dogs.
As the hostage drama unfolded, police sealed off the center of Lutsk, 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of the capital Kyiv. At one point, the assailant threw explosives out of a bus window, but no one was hurt. He also fired several shots at a police drone.
The man called the police himself at 9:25 a.m. (0625 GMT) after taking control of the vehicle and introduced himself as Maksim Plokhoy, Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook.
According to Gerashchenko, police have identified the man as Maksim Krivosh, a 44-year-old Ukrainian born in Russia. Krivosh had reportedly been convicted twice on a wide range of charges — robbery, fraud, illegal arms handling — and spent a total of 10 years behind bars.
According to reports, Krivosh tried to reach out to journalists through hostages and their phones, demanding that they spread the word about his demands and get more reporters to arrive at the scene.