A joint investigation carried out by The Insider and Bellingcat has concluded that the veteran Russian journalist and longtime Novaya Gazeta staffer Elena Kostyuchenko was most likely poisoned in Munich in October 2022.
Speaking about her experience to independent Russian media outlet Meduza, Kostyuchenko said that the first symptom she noticed was her own unpleasant body odour. “The smell of sweat was sharp and strange: it smelled like rotten fruit.”
Shortly afterwards the journalist recalled feeling feeble and disoriented and being unable to breathe properly, which she initially attributed to a recent Covid infection. The next day, however, Kostyuchenko was woken up by a sharp pain in her stomach.
“It was weird,” the journalist said, describing it as if someone was turning the pain on and off. “I tried to sit up but had to lie back down. My head was spinning so much it seemed like the room was rotating around me. Each spin made me more nauseous. I managed to get to the bathroom, where I vomited.”
“The pain in my stomach was getting worse and worse. Even touching my own skin was painful. I barely slept that night and for several more after that. As soon as I managed to fall asleep, the pain would wake me up. My head was still spinning whenever I sat or stood up,”
It took Kostyuchenko 10 days to see a doctor. A blood test showed that her ALT and AST liver enzyme levels were five times higher than normal, while another test revealed that her urine contained blood.
The doctor treating Kostyuchenko excluded all causes for her illness, save poisoning, and recommended she have toxin tests at Berlin’s Charité hospital, where Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny received treatment following his attempted poisoning in 2020. Kostyuchenko then went to the police to request the necessary tests.
The German police initially launched an investigation but later closed it, saying that it was virtually impossible to detect the presence of toxins in the body after such a long time. In July, Kostyuchenko was told that the investigation had been reopened to allow more tests to be carried out.
A source told The Insider that law enforcement agencies eventually conducted a mass spectrometry blood test. While the results detected a certain agent in quantities that far outweighed normal levels, they remained insufficiently high to conclude that the journalist had been poisoned.
Elena Kostyuchenko is a Russian journalist and gay rights activist who has been repeatedly assaulted and arrested for her work. She has been working for Novaya Gazeta for almost 20 years, during which time she has covered various protests in Russia and other former Soviet states, and exposed the presence of Russian fighters in the breakaway Donbas region of Ukraine.