Viktor Yushchenko, before and after illness (courtesy CTV)
Suspicions that Ukrainian political leader Viktor Yushchenko was the victim of an assassination plot have now been confirmed, as doctors in Austria say he was deliberately poisoned during the recent election campaign.
The London Times reports physicians at Vienna’s Rudolfinerhaus clinic are within days of identifying the substance that left Yushchenko’s face disfigured with cysts and lesions, believing it was either a biological or chemical agent, or possibly a rare poison.
Dr. Nikolai Korpan at the clinic says it’s clear the candidate was targeted for assassination in the days before last month’s election.
“This is no longer a question for discussion,” Korpan told the paper. “We are now sure that we can confirm which substance caused this illness. He received this substance from other people who had a specific aim.”
Asked if the goal had been to kill him, Korpan said, “Yes, of course,” adding doctors would need to re-examine Yushchenko to confirm the diagnosis.
A spokeswoman for Yushchenko said he did not have any plans to travel to Vienna, but Yushchenko himself recently said he’d reveal proof he was targeted for death by his opponents.
Yushchenko became ill Sept. 6 and was rushed to Rudolfinerhaus four days later with severe abdominal pain and lesions on his face and trunk.
He suffered swelling in his liver, pancreas and intestines, but doctors were not able to diagnose the cause. Against medical advice, Yushchenko returned to his campaign after a week, but back pain prompted him to return to the clinic within two weeks.
Half his face was paralyzed during the campaign, and a catheter was inserted in his back so that doctors could inject painkillers into his spinal column.
Supporters of Yushchenko’s rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, ridiculed the opposition, claiming the illness was likely the result of bad sushi, too much cognac or a severe case of herpes.
Korpan told the Times that toxicologists and other experts at laboratories in the U.S., Britain and France have now examined Yushchenko’s blood samples and medical records.
“We will reveal the results in the near future and confirm the cause of this mysterious illness,” he said. “We need to check him again here in Vienna. If we received him today, we could finish the whole investigation in two or three days.”
But Korpan declined to be specific on the precise identity or source of the substance.
“Maybe it was administered through injection, maybe in water, maybe through eating, but the way to give it to him is very simple. This substance can be given very precisely – to only one person,” he said.
John Henry, a clinical toxicologist at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, told Nature that Yushchenko’s disfiguring acne was almost certainly “chloracne,” a characteristic symptom of dioxin poisoning.
A presidential run-off between Yushchenko and Yanukovych is slated for Dec. 26, but proof of a poison plot could be devastating to Yanukovych, as questions loom about his possible involvement.
There’s also been speculation of involvement by Moscow, which fears Yushchenko might take Ukraine out of its sphere of influence by joining NATO and the European Union.