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A bus with passengers who have been taken hostage is seen in the city of Lutsk, Ukraine, on July 21, 2020.

YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP/Getty Images

An armed man who took more than a dozen hostages on a long-distance bus in Ukraine’s western city of Lutsk on Tuesday fulfilled the agreement he had reached with President Volodymyr Zelensky and released them shortly after Zelensky urged Ukrainians to watch an animal rights documentary, the president said Wednesday.

Zelensky spoke to the hostage-taker for several minutes on Tuesday evening, the president’s office said.

“We had information about an injured (hostage), and I asked him to release the injured (hostage), a pregnant woman and a child. He said the injured hostage doesn’t exist, it was a bluff. So we agreed that he will let three people go and after that I will record a video (message),” Zelensky said in a statement on the 12-hour-long hostage drama.

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The assailant, identified by police as Maksim Krivosh, a 44-year-old Ukrainian born in Russia, seized the bus with 13 people on Tuesday morning, prompting a standoff with police in Lutsk, 400 kilometres (250 miles) west of the capital Kyiv.

At one point, the assailant threw explosives out of a window but no one was hurt. He also fired several shots at a police drone.

One of his demands was that Zelensky post a video message on the president’s Facebook page urging Ukrainians to watch “Earthlings,” a 2005 American documentary exposing humanity’s cruel exploitation of animals.

A video of Zelensky saying: “Movie ‘Earthlings’, 2005. Everybody should watch” appeared on his Facebook page shortly after the first three hostages were reported to be released.

Zelensky said Krivosh promised to release the others half an hour after the video was posted. “So it happened: In 30-40 minutes he released the hostages,” the president said.

The video was later deleted from his Facebook account.

According to authorities, Krivosh reportedly had been convicted twice on a range of charges – robbery, fraud, illegal arms handling – and spent a total of 10 years behind bars.

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Ukrainian media said he was an animal rights activists who helped protect stray dogs.

Some of the released hostages told reporters that he treated them well and only asked them to remain calm.

The man is in custody and is reportedly co-operating with law enforcement. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said police detained several of his accomplices on Tuesday night.

Avakov didn’t give details on what prompted the incident, saying only that the assailant was “an unstable man who painted his vision of the world and invented a revenge for it.”

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