Dioxin Poisoning Scars Ukrainian Presidential Candidate

KIEV, Ukraine, December 13, 2004 (ENS) - Ukrainian presidential candidate and opposition leader Victor Yushchenko is back in Kiev today after Austrian doctors who did extensive blood tests in Vienna established that he was poisoned with dioxins. Saying he is glad to be alive, Yushchenko left the Rudolfinerhaus clinic Sunday to face a second runoff election on December 26.


Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko speaks to the press in Vienna Sunday. (Photos courtesy TAK)
Dr. Michael Zimpfer, the head doctor of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic told reporters Saturday that there is no doubt the disease that has disfigured Yushchenko's face over the past two months was caused by dioxins.

“Over the last 24 hours we have studied blood samples and we have no doubts that the disease had been caused by dioxins,” Zimpfer said, adding that Yushchenko’s blood and tissue registered concentrations of dioxin 1,000 times above normal levels.

Dioxins are not poisons that take immediate effect, Zimpfer said. "Toxicity builds up over years, dozens of years, and it is impossible to receive a dose one day that would poison you the next," he said.


Yushchenko addresses a crowd in Odessa on October 5, 2004 before the dioxin poisoning had begun to show on his face.
According to Zimpfer, the doctors are working to resolve the question what exactly had caused Yushchenko’s poisoning "with utmost care," consulting with their colleagues from many countries. All colleagues are unanimous in their medical conclusions, said Zimpfer.

Previous cases, he said, had inhaled the dioxin, while Yushchenko is believed to have orally ingested the poison. If the poisoning was deliberate, said Zimpfer, dioxin may have been chosen because of the difficulty of detecting it.

"Until recently there was no blood test for dioxin," he said. "This may be one of the reasons why this kind of poison, if it was a criminal act, was chosen."

Chlorinated dioxins are a family of 75 chemically related compounds. In their pure form, dioxins are crystals or colorless solids. Exposure occurs mainly from eating food that contains the chemicals.


Dr. Michael Zimpfer, the head doctor of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic, reveals Yushchenko's blood test results to the international media.
One chemical in this group, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or 2,3,7,8-TCDD, has been shown to be very toxic in animal studies. It causes effects on the skin and may cause cancer in people.

The most noted health effect in people exposed to large amounts of 2,3,7,8-TCDD is chloracne a severe skin disease with lesions similar to acne that occur mainly on the face and upper body. Other skin effects noted in people exposed to high doses of 2,3,7,8-TCDD include skin rashes, discoloration, and excessive body hair.

The World Health Organization has determined that 2,3,7,8-TCDD is a human carcinogen.

With his wife translating for him, Yushchenko told a news conference at the clinic on Sunday that the two weeks of protests that brought hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets to support his allegations of vote rigging had produced "a different country, a different nation."

"We had not seen anything like that for the past 100 years," he said. "I believe it would be appropriate to compare this to the fall of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin wall."


Yushchenko is pursuing his vision of Ukraine as a future member of the European Union.
For two weeks after the presidential runoff between Yushchenko and the Kremlin's favorite Viktor Yanukovich, the streets of Kiev were filled with people protesting what they said was a fraudulent outcome of the elections. Up to 200,000 people brought central Kiev to a halt and thousands protested in other Ukrainian cities.

The Supreme Court of Ukraine annulled the outcome of the presidential runoff and called for a repeat runoff on December 26.

Yanukovich supports closer ties with Russia, while Yushchenko favors gradual integration with Western Europe, with Russia as a strategic partner for Ukraine.

Yushchenko on Friday challenged the European Union to embrace a changed country, and laid out a long term plan for EU membership.

"Of course, Ukraine is waiting for real concrete steps in response to these democratic and political processes that are occurring in Ukraine. We are awaiting analogous steps from the European Union," Yushchenko said in an interview with "The Financial Times."

Yushchenko suggested a four-stage plan for EU membership under which Ukraine should be acknowledged to be a market economy, join the World Trade Organization, become an associate member of the EU, and finally a full member.

Yushchenko told reporters he hopes to get at least 60 percent of the votes and to win in 19 of 20 regions of Ukraine in the upcoming rerun.