Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, and two Ukrainian officials suffered poisoning symptoms in Kyiv in early March after peace talks with Russia, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Abramovich’s eyesight “completely disappeared” for several hours while a member of the Ukrainian delegation, the parliamentarian Rustem Umerov, partially lost his eyesight, two of the people said.
“People became totally blind. . . the next day, ”said a person close to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president. “We did not identify the substance. No idea who was behind [the attack] – but it looks like Roman was the main target. ”
Abramovich’s suspected poisoning came after a round of peace talks this month between Russian and Ukrainian delegations, which the billionaire oligarch helped to broker with the approval of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky.
Kyiv’s delegates met their Russian counterparts on Ukraine’s border with Belarus on March 3, then traveled to the Ukrainian capital. That evening the three men suffered other symptoms, including eye inflammation, severe eye pain and peeling skin.
Abramovich and Umerov received medical treatment in Turkey and their eyesight recovered, two of the people said.
“They could not work out who did it – the Ukrainians or the Russians,” one of the people said, adding that it was “definitely not novichok” – referring to the substance used to poison Kremlin opponents such as the jailed dissident Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal.
Doctors and chemical weapons experts were unable to identify what type of substance was used or who might have carried it out, the three people said.
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People close to Abramovich suspect he could have been targeted by hardliners who wanted to sabotage the talks, one of them said.
Zelensky was not affected by the attack.
Abramovich later traveled to Kyiv a second time to meet the Ukrainian president, two people familiar with the matter said.
Representatives for Abramovich, Putin, and Zelensky declined to comment. Abramovich’s suspected poisoning was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Abramovich and the two Ukrainians first experienced symptoms during the evening after their round of peace talks and after consuming only water and chocolate, according to the Bellingcat website. The investigative site said it had been asked to bring in chemical weapons specialists to examine the men.
Afterwards, Abramovich and other negotiators drove to Lviv in western Ukraine and crossed into Poland before flying to Istanbul, where they continued informal talks with Russian delegates, Bellingcat said.
“The experts concluded that the symptoms are most likely the result of international poisoning with an undefined chemical weapon,” Bellingcat added.
The experts said the dosage and type of toxin used was likely insufficient to cause life-threatening damage, and most likely was intended to scare the victims as opposed to cause permanent damage. The victims said they were not aware of who might have had an interest in an attack, ”the website said.