Ukraine President Ends Hostage Siege by Endorsing Joaquin Phoenix Film

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Joaquin Phoenix

An armed gunman released 13 hostages and surrendered to police after Volodymyr Zelensky consented to his demand to recommend the 2005 animal rights documentary 'Earthlings,' starring Joaquin Phoenix.

It was a good thing he was a film fan.

A hostage standoff in Ukraine has ended peacefully after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to the hostage-taker's demand to publicly endorse an obscure documentary narrated by Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix.

The gunman, armed with an automatic rifle and grenades, surrendered to police and released 13 hostages on Tuesday after the president consented to his demand to recommend Phoenix's 2005 film Earthlings. The animal rights doc, which won a number of minor festival awards on its initial release, is a scathing critique of humanity's use of animals as pets, food, clothing, entertainment and for scientific research. 

The hostage-taker, identified by local media as 44-year-old Maksym Kryvosh, was reportedly an animal rights activist, though he also had a prison record, having spent nearly a decade behind bars on fraud and weapons charges, local media reported.

Phoenix is a well-known animal rights activist and used his Oscar acceptance speech for Joker to highlight the issue. The actor recently joined the animal rights doc Gunda as an executive producer. Neon will release the film stateside.

Kryvosh released three hostages after Zelensky agreed to endorse the film and surrendered to police after the president posted a video on Facebook telling the Ukraine people: "The film Earthlings from 2005. Everyone should watch it." The video was deleted after Kryvosh surrendered and replaced with a note thanking police and others who helped end the hostage crisis. "Human life is the most important value. We have not lost anyone," Zelensky wrote.

The siege began early Tuesday morning when the hostage-taker fired shots and boarded a bus in the city of Lutsk. He told police he had rigged the vehicle with explosives. Police cordoned off the city center and began what would be several hours of intense negotiations. Initially, the hostage-taker had made several other demands, including one that senior politicians in Ukraine state publicly that they were terrorists.

He has been arrested and "a lengthy prison sentence awaits him," Ukraine interior minister Arsen Avakov told local media. While Avakov condemned the criminal act, he said it should not reflect badly on Earthlings, which he said was "a good film. … You don’t have to be so screwed up and cause such a horror for the whole country — you can watch it without that."