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Russian Activist Verzilov Doing 'Better' After Possible Poisoning


Activist Pyotr Verzilov arrives on a special medical transport plane at Schoenefeld airport in Berlin on September 15.

Russian activist Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot and the dissident art troupe Voina, is doing better since he arrived in Berlin for treatment following a suspected poisoning, friends say.

Before his arrival in the German capital late on September 15 on a medical flight from Moscow, family members said Verzilov's sight, speech and mobility were impaired.

Pyotr Verzilov
Pyotr Verzilov

​"He's better," Veronika Nikulshina, a Pussy Riot member and Verzilov’s partner, told the Reuters news agency from the activist’s room at the Charite clinic in Berlin on September 16.

"Everything is OK," Nikulshina said, but she did not provide details about his condition.

"The doctors here are great," she added.

Reuters quoted Jaka Bizilj, the managing director of the Berlin-based Cinema for Peace human rights group, as saying clinic officials will on September 17 update the public on the condition of Verzilov.

​Bizilj said his group had paid for Verzilov’s flight to Berlin and that Russia had been "cooperative."

He also said that the 30-year-old had fallen ill on September 11 after attending a court hearing in the Russian capital. He later suffered seizures while traveling to a Moscow hospital in an ambulance, he added.

The Bild newspaper paper said Verzilov's former wife, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, was waiting for Verzilov at Berlin’s Schoenefeld Airport when he arrived.

“I believe that he was poisoned intentionally, and that it was an attempt to intimidate him or kill him," the paper quoted her as saying.

Footage posted by Tolokonnikova showed Verzilov sitting up in the plane on the tarmac in Berlin. He appeared to be alert.

​Nikulshina told the BBC that a friend of Verzilov's father would treat him in the Berlin facility.

Verzilov has both Russian and Canadian citizenship.

Canada’s government said it was monitoring the situation and that it was "concerned” by Verzilov’s situation.

"Our officials have been in contact with Mr. Verzilov's family, and stand ready to provide further consular assistance," a spokesperson said.

The German Foreign Ministry said it could not comment, citing privacy laws.

Verzilov, a co-founder of the Mediazona website, which reports on the trials of Russian activists, was being treated in the toxicology section of Moscow's Bakhrushin City Clinical Hospital before his transfer.

Earlier this year, Verzilov was sentenced along with other Pussy Riot members to 15 days in jail for briefly interrupting the July 15 World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia by running onto the field wearing fake police uniforms.

Verzilov became known as a member of the Voina (War) art troupe in the late 2000s.

He performed with then-wife Tolokonnikova, who went on to form punk protest band Pussy Riot with Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova founded Mediazona in 2014, with Verzilov becoming publisher.

Kremlin critics accuse the Russian authorities of poisoning several journalists, Kremlin foes, and others who have died or fallen mysteriously ill since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

Verzilov's sudden illness came against the backdrop of outrage over what British authorities say was the poisoning by Russian military intelligence officers of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in England in March, and the death of a woman police say was exposed to the substance after the alleged attackers discarded it.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Reuters, Bild, and Meduza
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