Ukraine: Police detain armed man holding 13 people hostage on bus in Lutsk
The armed man who held people captive on a bus in the Ukrainian city of Lutsk has been detained and the hostages released, the country’s Interior Minister has announced.
“It’s over,” Arsen Avakov wrote on Twitter, adding: “All are safe”.
The situation only ended after President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone to the hostage taker and posted a video to Facebook endorsing a 2005 animal rights documentary, which was one of the armed man’s demands.
The short video of Zelensky was later deleted.
Three of the hostages — a child, a pregnant woman and an elderly woman — had been released just 30 minutes earlier.
Thirteen people were held against their will for most of the day.
The attacker, a 44-year old Ukrainian national, seized control of the bus in the morning and threw explosives out of a bus window, but no one was hurt, according to Associated Press. He also fired several shots at a police drone.
The interior minister posted video of the hostages being led to safety and a picture of the assailant held on the ground by officers.
Zelensky, who had earlier called the situation “alarming” following reports of gunshots, expressed his “congratulations to everyone who fought all day for the release” of the hostages.
“Human life is the most important value. We haven’t lost anyone. Today, family members and loved ones can hug everyone who suffered today on the bus. Terrorism has no place in our country,” he added on Facebook.
At a press conference in the town earlier in the day, Avakov had called for caution in how the story is being reported.
“We hope to find a solution and I would really want to ask all of you to be very careful accurate in your comments, including some of the information that is not true or not confirmed that you’re spreading about the person who has taken hostages. This doesn’t help solve the situation, it only adds tension.”
“We talked to the relatives, to the wife, the friends – we have and will do anything to find a peaceful solution,” he said.
The centre of Lutsk was sealed off to the public.
Eyewitness Vitalik Troszyk told Dailyrater he had heard “something like a gunshot” at 1.43 p.m. local time and that police were expanding the cordon, moving people back from the area.
“There is an increased security area. The police ask people to keep their distance, go behind the houses,” he said.
What do we know about the hostage-taker?
Police earlier said they have identified the suspect who called them at 9.25 a.m. local time after taking over the bus and told them he has “explosives and arms” and “posted demands on Twitter.”
“His identity has been established, he is a 44-year-old resident of Rivne region,” the police said in a press release on Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said they had checked the Twitter account associated with the name the suspect initially gave but they had not found any demands, “just general discontent about the system.”
Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said on a Facebook post that the man introduced himself as Maksim Plokhoy. This surname translates from the Russian as ‘bad’.
Dailyrater found a Twitter account associated with the name Maksim Plokhoy, which has now been removed from the platform and can no longer be accessed.
In a statement to Dailyrater, Twitter said it had permanently deleted the account because it violated the platform’s rules.
There were tweets with demands and messages to journalists posted on this account.
The Twitter account linked to a YouTube channel which has also been taken down.
In a later post, Gerashchenko said the suspect’s name is Krivosh Maxim Stepanovich, a Ukrainian citizen originating from the town of Gay in Orenburg Oblast, Russia.
He claimed the individual has previous convictions for robbery, extortion and fraud.
A Russian link?
The head of the Security Service Ivan Bakanov praised anti-terrorism officers for their handling of the situation and the release of the 13 hostages.
He added that three terrorist attacks had been foiled in the country in the first half of the year.
“Unfortunately, this is the reality in which our country lives today. It is due to various factors, including events in the east and the influence of the Russian Federation on the situation in Ukraine,” he said in a statement.