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Pussy Riot Activist Flown to Berlin Hospital; ‘Highly Probable’ He was Poisoned Say Doctors

Pyotr Verzilov, who stormed the World Cup final in an anti-Putin protest, is currently in intensive care

Pyotr Verzilov removed by security guards at the World Cup final in Moscow, July 2018. Courtesy: NurPhoto via Getty Images; photograph: Matteo Ciambelli

Pyotr Verzilov removed by security guards at the World Cup final in Moscow, July 2018. Courtesy: NurPhoto via Getty Images; photograph: Matteo Ciambelli

Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov, who invaded the pitch at this year’s World Cup final in an anti-Kremlin protest, was likely poisoned, German doctors have said. The swift onset of various symptoms including widely dilated pupils and high blood pressure suggested a poisonous substance had affected his nervous system, they said. Verzilov is currently in intensive care in a Berlin hospital.

Verzilov fell ill last week in Moscow, losing his sight, speech, hearing and mobility. His health has since improved after being airlifted to Germany over the weekend. The flight was organized by the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace Foundation. ‘It is highly probable that he was poisoned,’ Kai-Uwe Eckardt, a doctor at Berlin’s Charite university hospital, told reporters. Doctors had apparently found ‘no evidence whatsoever’ of another explanation for Verzilov’s illness.

Verzilov’s condition is no longer life-threatening, and doctors treating him are confident that he will fully recover. ‘Pyotr Verzilov improves day by day and he is no longer at risk,’ hospital head Karl Max Einhäupl commented. Einhäupl said that hospital doctors wished to ‘refrain completely from all speculation about what made these problems happen.’

Verzilov, who has dual Russian and Canadian citizenship, fell into a half-unconscious state last Tuesday evening. His friend Veronika Nikulshina said that ‘he woke up and said that he had started to lose his sight […] Then he lost the ability to speak, then the ability to walk’. Verzilov was taken into a toxicology ward at a Moscow hospital, before being flown out of the country.

As well as taking part in the Pussy Riot protest this July, in which activists stormed the World Cup final in Moscow while dressed as police officers, Verzilov is the publisher of Mediazona, a news platform devoted to uncovering Russian human rights abuses. Don’t miss Aliide Naylor’s piece in frieze on the meaning of Pussy Riot’s World Cup action: reminding us ‘that this happy, welcoming spectacle has a far darker side.’

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