Did Yushchenko Poison Himself?


Kiev, Ukraine.

During the Cold War, the global ‘spy-versus-spy’ atmosphere of rival east-west blocs generated endless assassination plots and political murder stories. One of the most infamous such killings involved a Bulgarian BBC employee, Georgi Markov, allegedly murdered by the Bulgarian Communist secret police on a London street in 1978. Legend has it Markov’s murderer stuck him with an umbrella, the tip of which contained a tiny pellet of the deadly organic poison known as ricin.

A quarter century later, in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko has alleged that the government tried to poison him during the pre-election period. Poison, he and his supporters say, explains his sudden illness and disfigured appearance in the first week of September, after spending an evening with two Ukrainian intelligence service chiefs. One of Yushchenko’s top lieutenants even accused the government of using ricin. This accusation was soon withdrawn, however, presumably because ricin would almost certainly have killed its victim. The accusers’ poison of choice then became “dioxins,” toxins so common they are found in the air we breathe.

Many outside observers believe the assassination plot story precisely because of its geographical context: the former Soviet Union. Few in America could imagine a candidate risking attempted murder of his opponent in the run-up to a U.S. election, but after all, this is a former Soviet country. The Ukrainian government–with the whole world watching–was willing to risk assassinating a high-profile political figure weeks before polling day, or so it seems. Common sense should be the first indicator that the Yushchenko campaign has concocted a tall tale. Yet, even supposing a diabolical government plot to murder Yushchenko were plausible, other factors call the poisoning version of events into question. Most important is the fact that Yushchenko has a long, documented history of serious illnesses, and his latest ailment could well be just the latest installment.

Yushchenko’s medical records show that from 1994 to 2004 he had the following diseases: chronic gastritis, chronic cholecystitis, chronic colitis, chronic gastroduodenitis, infection of the bowels, and Type II diabetes. According to medical experts, this plethora of intestinal problems would have required the patient to adhere to a strict diet, but Yushchenko had a habit of falling off his dietary wagon with unfortunate effects. In September 1996, after a birthday party at which he ate and drank heavily, Yushchenko complained of pains in his right side and a burning mouth. The diagnosis: chronic cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). Yushchenko’s most recent complaints–nausea, vomiting, headaches, stomach and intestinal pains–indicated he had probably violated his prescribed meal plan yet again.

Few seem to remember that, back in September this year, the clinic that treated Yushchenko (Rudolfinerhaus Clinic in Vienna, Austria, which now publicly supports the dioxin story) labeled the poison rumors “fallacious,” diagnosing Yushchenko with severe pancreatitis, severe intestinal ulcers, gastritis, proctitis, peripheral paresis and a viral skin condition. The core diagnosis, pancreatitis (decomposition of the pancreatic gland tissue), is caused by alcohol–particularly in “binge drinking”–65-75% of the time, and the items Yushchenko consumed before his September illness included crabs, watermelon, sushi–and cognac. In a country where hospitality involves endless toasts, Yushchenko’s hosts may have “poisoned” him with nothing more than a liter of Ukrainian spirits. To make matters worse, Yushchenko’s medical records confirmed he had voluntarily refused his doctor-ordered diet even after falling seriously ill. On September 9th he consumed salo (a variety of pork fat popular in Ukraine) with garlic, mare’s milk and mineral water, and the next day he was in a Rudolfinerhaus clinic bed, and soon accusing the “regime” of poisoning him.

Although Yushchenko announced publicly in late September that he had never suffered from chronic illnesses, insisting he had been deliberately poisoned, it was publicly disclosed soon afterwards that Yushchenko had suffered from intestinal ailments for many years. This does not explain his facial appearance but, again, dioxin poisoning is less likely an explanation than alcohol. Yushchenko’s disfigurement closely resembles a form of herpes infection called rosacea. As Dr. Chris Rangel, an internal medicine specialist in Texas, points out: “Rosacea can be explosive, and extremely disfiguring–and it can be triggered by even one alcoholic drink. In five years of work at major inner city hospitals in Manhattan, I saw several such cases.” In other words, both rosacea (accounting for Yushchenko’s outward appearance) and pancreatitis (internal symptoms) can be brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.

As human beings, we reflexively tend to sympathize with anyone who has experienced a disfiguring illness. Politicians everywhere, however, know that public disclosure of serious illness can be fatal to an election campaign, and it was only natural for Viktor Yushchenko’s campaign to attempt to cover up his physical problems. In the absence of any proof, we should resist the temptation to allow our natural sympathies to lead us to a conclusion of foul play.

CHAD NAGLE is a lawyer accredited as an election observer in the first two rounds of the Ukrainian presidential campaign He writes from Kiev.


November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability