The wife of Ukraine’s top military intelligence official has been hospitalized with apparent heavy metals poisoning, according to Ukrainian and western officials.
Marianna Budanova is the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, whose military intelligence agency GUR has been deeply involved in Ukraine’s efforts to oust Russia from its territory, and western officials have been immediately suspicious that Russian agents may have paid off a staff member to carry out the poisoning.
Test results show that Ukrainian Defense Intelligence staff have also been sickened, according to Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for the agency, and Ukraine is investigating the situation.
American and western intelligence officials have not independently verified the poisoning but believe Ukrainian reports to be accurate, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
The seriousness of Budanova’s condition was not immediately apparent. According to the GUR representative, she has been hospitalized for a week and had felt poorly for some time prior to being hospitalized. A source with Defense Intelligence told CNN, on the condition of anonymity because the information has not been made public, Budanova tested positive for arsenic and mercury. CNN has reached out to Budanova for comment.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” Tuesday evening that “it’s highly likely that Russia is behind it” but that he was “not making any official conclusions.”
“It would be premature for me to make any conclusions, but when you fight such a vicious enemy as Russia, you have to be ready for anything, and Russia has proven itself many times before as a country that uses poison as a mean to kill its opponents and its enemies,” Kuleba told Burnett.
“And definitely our intelligence chief is the enemy of Russia as all of us are. All those who are fighting against Russia,” he continued. “So it’s highly likely that Russia is behind it, but I’m not making any official conclusions, so I leave it to the to the experts to make.”
Dr. Edward Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at Ohio State University College of Medicine, said that without a more detailed understanding of the test results and patient history – including their symptoms and potential exposure to certain foods – it’s impossible to judge the likelihood that any of the victims were deliberately poisoned.
“What is going to be really important to suss out are the actual symptoms. Different metals have different toxicities associated with them,” Boyer said. “It’s important to get not only an environmental exposure history but also a food intake history, coupled with the honest-to-goodness symptoms.”
Russia – and the Soviet Union before that – has been known to carry out extra-territorial poisonings against its enemies. In England in 2018, Russian agents used a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for British intelligence agencies. In the 1950s, the KGB used thallium – a heavy metal used in rat poisons and insecticides – to poison one of its own agents who had defected to the United States.
During Ukraine-Russia talks in March 2022 in Turkey, a Russian billionaire and two Ukrainian negotiators suffered minor skin peeling and sore eyes, a source close to the Ukrainian negotiation team told CNN at the time. While initial reports indicated that they suffered from poisoning, later reports indicated the they were sickened due to an environmental factor, not poisoning.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct Dr. Edward Boyer’s title.
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