It’s scary to not be able to breathe. That was the first thing I felt, both times the poisoning symptoms began to set in. Both times were in Moscow – the first, on May 26, 2015; the second, on February 2, 2017. My chest was expanding, all the normal physical motions were there – but it felt as if I were suffocating. The other symptoms – racing heartbeat, excessive perspiration, violent vomiting, loss of consciousness – came later.
The official diagnosis from the hospital was “toxic action by an undefined substance” – meaning, in plain language, poisoning by an unknown source. Multiple organ failure, brain swelling and a prolonged coma followed. Both times, doctors told my wife I had about a 5 per cent chance to live.
I did, thanks to the amazing Russian doctors, and am deeply grateful to be able to write these words. But this Thursday, I relived a horrific “groundhog day” at hearing the news of Alexei Navalny’s suspected poisoning in Siberia, where he had been canvassing for his movement’s candidates in the upcoming local elections. The opposition politician and Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption campaigner began to feel sick on his return flight to Moscow, perspiring and shouting with pain. After the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Navalny, already unconscious, was taken to the local hospital and attached to a ventilator. No one in Russia doubts the cause of his sickness.
Time after time, people who crossed the Kremlin’s path have fallen victim to mysterious poisoning attacks: opposition politicians and independent journalists, Russians and foreigners, on our own soil and abroad.