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Pussy Riot's Pyotr Verzilov is seriously ill — and his friends think he was poisoned

"His life is in danger. We think that he was poisoned.”

by Tim Hume
Sep 13 2018, 10:00am

Getty Images

Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov is seriously ill in hospital, with his colleagues and relatives saying Wednesday he may have been poisoned.

A Kremlin critic, Verzilov was hospitalized in critical condition after he began feeling unwell Tuesday, according to a report in news website Meduza that Pussy Riot tweeted from their verified Twitter account.

“Our friend, brother, comrade Petr Verzilov is in reanimation. His life is in danger. We think that he was poisoned,” read the tweet.

Verzilov’s partner, Veronika Nikulshina, told Meduza that the activist started feeling sick after a court hearing Tuesday, and lay down to rest. When he woke up two hours later, he was losing his sight, and his condition swiftly deteriorated.

“First it was his vision, then his ability to speak, and then his ability to walk,” Nikulshina said.

While being taken to hospital in an ambulance, Verzilov “fell into such a half-asleep, half-unconscious state that he stopped responding to me and didn’t even recognize me anymore.”

Nikulshina said hospital staff had refused to tell her whether Verzilov had been poisoned, but he was being treated in the toxicology ward of the hospital.

Sergei Smirnov, who is the editor-in-chief of Mediazona — a news website founded by Verzilov and other members of Pussy Riot — said on social media the activist had been hospitalized, but that nobody had been given a diagnosis. Other prominent Pussy Riot members, including Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were sentenced to jail in 2012 for playing an anti-Putin protest song inside a Moscow cathedral — also tweeted about Verzilov’s illness.

“Pyotr may have been poisoned. In the toxicology department in a very serious condition,” tweeted Tolokonnikova, who was previously married to Verzilov. Russian state news agency Tass quoted Alyokhina as saying Verzilov was in the toxicology unit, and that his relatives had been told they could see him in the morning.

Verzilov, who also holds Canadian citizenship, acted as spokesperson for Pussy Riot during their high-profile 2012 trial, and captured headlines again in July when he and three other Pussy Riot activists ran on to the pitch wearing police uniforms during the World Cup final in Moscow.

READ: Salisbury suspects claim they were just tourists who had to immediately return to Moscow because of the weather

He and his fellow protesters were jailed for 15 days for the pitch invasion.

The incident comes amid accusations the Kremlin poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on English soil in March. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Wednesday that the two men named as suspects by British authorities were civilians, rather than agents of Russian security services.

On Thursday, the two men — who identified themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — gave an interview to Russian state television in which they said they’d gone to the English city of Salisbury to admire the cathedral, rather than carry out the nerve agent attack.

Cover image: Pyotr Verzilov at a farewell ceremony for film director Alexander Rastorguyev at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery. (Anton Novoderezhkin\TASS via Getty Images)