KIEV, Ukraine: To the gasps, whoops and applause of stunned colleagues, Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko walked into a news conference Wednesday, less than a day after police in the Ukrainian capital said he had been assassinated.

Authorities said his death had been staged to foil a plot on his life by Moscow’s security services and one arrest was made. Russia denounced the faked killing as an outlandish attempt at defamation by its neighbor and foe.

Even Babchenko’s wife was unaware of the deception, and the 41-year-old Kremlin critic who fled to Ukraine 15 months ago apologized to her “for the hell she had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either.”

Neither Babchenko nor Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Gritsak gave details of the sting operation or how they made his wife believe he was dead.

Kiev Police Chief Andriy Krishchenko had announced Babchenko’s death Tuesday, saying the journalist’s wife found him bleeding at their apartment building in Kiev but that he died en route to the hospital. Lawmaker Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister, said the assailant had waited on a staircase in the building and shot Babchenko in the back as he was going to buy bread.

Just hours before the shooting was reported, Babchenko wrote on Facebook that he considered the day a “second birthday” because it was the fourth anniversary of his missing a flight on a Ukrainian military helicopter that later was shot down in the conflict between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

At the start of Wednesday’s news conference, Gritsak announced the journalist’s murder had been solved and called the day Babchenko’s “third birthday.”

Babchenko, clad in a black sweatshirt, walked into the room as other reporters gasped and exclaimed their surprise, then broke into applause.

“I’m still alive,” an uneasy-looking Babchenko said with a straight face. Then he apologized for the deception.

“I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague,” he added.

The news conference produced mixed emotions. “I was shocked. But then a feeling of happiness rose up,” said Serhii Nuzhnenko, a freelance journalist.

Babchenko said he was not allowed to go into the details of his false death. He said Ukraine’s law enforcement had been aware of a contract on his head for two months. He said he was approached by the Ukrainian Security Service a month ago.