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Ukraine hostage bus: President Zelenskyy defends video telling people to watch the film Earthlings

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A file photo shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. October 10, 2019.
A file photo shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. October 10, 2019.   -   Copyright  Efrem Lukatsky/AP
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Ukraine's president has defended complying with a gunman's unusual condition for freeing his hostages.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video on Facebook suggesting people watch Earthlings, a documentary on animal exploitation.

Recording the video was one of the gunman's demands after holding 13 bus passengers hostage in the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk on Tuesday.

Zelenskyy has since removed the video, in which he recommends the 2005 documentary film narrated by US actor Joaquin Phoenix that condemns animal abuse.

In a statement, Zelenskyy described his negotiations with the man, who later released the 13 people that he held against their will for most of the day.

"We have a result: everyone is alive," he said after some criticised him for carrying out the strange request.

Zelenskyy explained that he and the hostage-taker, a man identified by police as Maxime Krivoch, had agreed that he would "free three people, and then I would record the video".

Three of the hostages — a child, a pregnant woman and an elderly woman — were released 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the group.

After the video of Zelenskyy was published, the hostage-taker freed the remaining hostages and was arrested.

People have criticised the leader for bending to the gunman's demands, in some cases making reference to an episode of the TV series "Black Mirror" in which the British Prime Minister meets an outrageous condition made by a man holding a member of the royal family hostage.

Another Ukrainian Facebook user said the president deserved an Oscar for the video, but added: "It is a pity that such videos do not pull a military medic out of the grey zone (in eastern Ukraine), a tanker from the Black Sea, the hryvnia (Ukrainian currency) exchange rate from the abyss, do not stop the floods in the Carpathian and fires in Luhansk region ..."

Погодьтеся! Це ГЕНІАЛЬНО!!!! Це Оскар!!! Як шкода, що такими відосіками не витягти військового медика з сірої зони,...

Publiée par Журавель Юрій Zhuravel Yuriy sur Mardi 21 juillet 2020

While others, like deputy minister at the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anton Herashchenko, praised the president's actions.

"I can say that the president did everything right. The most valuable thing we have is people’s lives. Other actions could have led to uncontrolled terrorist aggression,” he said appearing on the Ukrainian-language TV channel 1+1.

According to the Ukrainian security services (SBU), no hostages were injured in the incident, during which Krivoch threatened to detonate a bomb.

He faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of terrorism and "hostage-taking", the SBU said.