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Russian dissident journalist suspected of poisoning

Russian dissident journalist Elena Kostyuchenko fell ill on the train to Berlin last fall when she was in exile at the German capital prompting the German authorities to suspect that there was an attempt to poison her.
Kostyuchenko revealed in the Russian language publication Meduza this week that while she was back from her Munich trip to apply for her Ukrainian visa, on the train she experienced cognitive difficulties and was drenched in strange- smelling sweat.

The case was initially closed due to lack of evidence but has recently reopened after further consideration.  

“The case was initially closed in May but reopened in July. This was due to new considerations rather than new evidence,” German public prosecutor spokesman Sebastian Büchner told CNN.

Kostyuchenko had been an independent Russian newspaper for the Novaya Gazeta for 17 years when Ukraine invaded Georgia. She was sent to Ukraine on an assignment at the start of the war. 

Kostyuchenko fled to Germany in March 2022 when she was tipped off by a Ukrainian military reconnaissance about Russian plans to assassinate her. She rented an apartment in Germany and  started working for Meduza on Sept. 29. 

Kostyuchenko wrote, “When I got on the train, I found my seat and immediately went to the bathroom. I wet some paper towels and started wiping myself off with them. I was covered in sweat. The sweat smelled strong and strange, like rotten fruit. I sat down and started reading the manuscript of my book.” She continued, “ After a while, I realized that I was just reading the same paragraph over and over and couldn’t move forward. My head ached.”

After leaving the train, she struggled to remember the way to her apartment. “I realized that I couldn’t figure out how to get home. I knew that I needed to transfer to the subway, but I couldn’t figure out how.”

Kostyuchenko’s condition worsened in the coming days. She was referred to several doctors but no one could diagnose her. Eventually, a doctor suggested that she could have been poisoned. The Berlin police ran a check through her apartment. She was questioned by a senior detective who was running the investigation into the killing of a former Chechen field commander, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili.

In a recent interview with the news outlet Current Time, “I want to live. That’s why I’m writing this.” She added, “I have a book coming out in a few weeks, and the police and investigative reporters think that the release of this book could be a trigger.”

Other dissident Russians have been targeted outside their country. Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned alongside his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury in 2018. The then-UK Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” the attack was ordered by the Russian government. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation, as reported by CNN.

Image Source: CNN

Edited by: Nandini Roy

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