Support Us

Several Russian women supposedly poisoned abroad – The Insider

Wednesday, 16 August 2023, 01:37
Several Russian women supposedly poisoned abroad – The Insider

Investigators from The Insider have found that since the autumn of 2022, there has been a series of poisonings of Russians who had left the Russian Federation, affecting journalists Elena Kostyuchenko and Irina Babloyan, as well as Natalia Arno, the head of the Free Russia Foundation.

Source: The Insider

Details: The Insider stated that over the past year, a new wave of poisonings has affected journalists and activists who have left Russia. In October 2022, Elena Kostyuchenko, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta and Meduza, was poisoned in Munich; a week later, Ekho Moskvy journalist Irina Babloyan suffered almost identical symptoms in Tbilisi; and in the spring, Natalia Arno, head of the Free Russia Foundation, was poisoned with a neurotoxic substance. 

The perpetrators have not yet been identified, but the Insider editors have consulted with the victims and decided to reveal the available data "to warn activists and journalists who have left Russia about the existing threat". The Insider does not rule out that there are other victims of poisoning.

The Insider studied the cases of Elena Kostyuchenko, Irina Babloyan and Natalia Arno together with doctors who are experts in toxic substances. Among them are a chemical weapons expert who used to work for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a Russian scientist who used to work in a secret programme to develop toxic substances overseen by the FSB, and about a dozen doctors of various specialities, including a Russian doctor who took an active part in the resuscitation of Alexey Navalny and Dmitry Bykov.

Elena Kostyuchenko, who was reporting from Kherson at the beginning of the full-scale war, received a warning about an assassination attempt on her by Kadyrovites [soldiers led by Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya and Putin’s accomplice – ed.] before travelling to Mariupol on 30 March 2022. Kostyuchenko left Zaporizhzhia and then Ukraine. The editor-in-chief advised her not to return to Russia from Europe.

Kostyuchenko was supposedly poisoned in Munich on 18 October 2022, while having lunch with a friend. She had travelled to Munich from Berlin to apply for a Ukrainian visa. On the way back, she felt sick. Since then, she has been suffering from nausea, pain, insomnia, and later swelling.

Elena tried to take a toxin test for the first time only two months later but due to a number of strange circumstances, she never received the result. Kostyuchenko's case was closed and then reopened.

As The Insider stated, some substance in Elena's blood exceeded the normal level, but it was impossible to draw an unequivocal conclusion that it was the substance that caused the poisoning.

Irina Babloyan was allegedly poisoned in Tbilisi on 25 October 2022. She was staying at the King Tamar hotel. On the evening of 25 October, she felt ill, and in the morning she woke up with severe weakness and dizziness. During the evening of 26 October, she developed hand-foot syndrome: her palms and feet turned purple and "burned".

On the way to Yerevan on 27 October, Irina felt worse and developed severe anxiety.

Elena and Irina's symptoms were similar (pain above the stomach, nausea and metallic taste in the mouth), but Babloyan also had periodic redness on her skin.

Irina did not visit a toxicologist, she only had allergy tests (they were negative for all known allergens). When she moved to Berlin a few months later, she did have her blood tested for toxicology. 

However, she did not receive the test results: Charité said that her blood samples had been lost. Irina, like Elena, was interrogated by German police.

Natalia Arno was poisoned in Prague, allegedly in a room at the Garden Court hotel on the night of 2-3 May 2023: the room door was open and the smell of perfume was wafting through the room. In the morning, Natalia's teeth and tongue hurt a lot, and then the pain began to travel around her body. 

Natalia did not go to the doctors in Prague and flew to Washington, D.C. (where she now lives) the same day. There, she sought medical attention and had blood tests on 4 May (she was the only one of the poisoned women who managed to do so quickly).

Her case is still being investigated by US law enforcement agencies. The results of the toxicological analysis are not yet known, but doctors told Natalia that she had been poisoned with a neurotoxic substance (without specifying what kind).

According to an expert who used to develop poisonous substances, Natalia's symptoms, including numbness, are indicative of a nerve agent. All types of Novichok belong to this class of substances, but it is impossible to know the class of substance based on these symptoms alone. 

When brushing her teeth, the poison could have got into the micropores in the oral cavity and take effect in a few hours – a nerve agent can be very painful in this case.

This poisoning may not have been the first attempt. In late July 2021, Natalia attended an event in Vilnius where she met with activists. On one of the days there, she also smelled perfume in her room, and soon after, she developed a fever, felt weak, and a rash appeared all over her body.

At the same time, The Insider does not confirm the statements of activists Lyubov Sobol and Elvira Vykhareva about their poisoning.

Ukrainska Pravda is the place where you will find the most up-to-date information about everything related to the war in Ukraine. Follow us on Twitter, support us, or become our patron!