September 25, 2020

Armed Man Seizes Hostages on Ukraine Bus

MOSCOW — An armed man seized a city bus and took around 20 people hostage in western Ukraine on Tuesday after posting complaints online about the country’s politics, according to the police and local news outlets.

The man was armed with a firearm and explosives, the Ukrainian national police said in a statement. Videos and photographs from the town, Lutsk, in northwestern Ukraine, showed police officers shooing pedestrians away from the scene. Security forces were seen taking cover behind utility poles and police cars.

By noon, a burst had been fired from an automatic weapon, and video from the scene showed bullet holes in a window of the bus, local media reported. There were no reports of casualties.

In a video posted online, a man identified in Ukrainian media as the attacker stared grimly into the camera while cradling a shortened version of a Kalashnikov rifle. He wore a black shirt and beret. In one short clip, the man said he was protesting the “system in Ukraine,” without clarifying what exactly that meant.

Another post that social media users attributed to the hostage taker read “Happy day of the anti-system” and “don’t fool yourself.”

The author of the post demanded that members of Parliament, ministers and leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox church post messages online saying “I am a legal terrorist.”

The man spoke and wrote in Russian, although Ukrainian is more commonly used in the western regions, which include Lutsk. The police told local news outlets that they were negotiating with the man.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement that the hostage-taker had called the police to announce that he had captured the city bus. Mr. Zelensky said he had ordered the domestic intelligence agency, the SBU, to report to the scene.

In the early years of the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, volunteers in paramilitary groups did much of the fighting on the Ukrainian side. Over the years, some military weapons that they carried at the front, including automatic rifles, hand grenades and other explosives, leaked from arsenals and have been used in crimes far from the front line, including domestic violence.

The spread of weapons from the war and relatively lax gun laws have meant Ukraine has a higher prevalence of guns in society than other European nations.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.