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Ukraine says head of intelligence Kyrylo Budanov’s wife has been poisoned

Marianna Budanova has been hospitalized and local media report there are other victims. The GUR agency claims that Russia has tried to assassinate the spy chief on several occasions

Marianna Budanova
Marianna Budanova and Kirilo Budanov, last January in Kyiv.VIACHESLAV RATYNSKYI (REUTERS)

Ukraine’s intelligence services (GUR) informed the media Tuesday that they have indications that several people were poisoned at the agency’s headquarters in Kyiv. The number of possible victims has not been specified, although GUR spokesman Andriy Yusov confirmed to the TV station Suspilne that one of them is Marianna Budanova, the wife of Ukraine’s intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov.

GUR sources indicated in a statement sent to the Ukrainian media that heavy metals have been detected in Budanova’s blood: “These substances are not used in any way in everyday life and military affairs. Its presence could indicate an attempt to poison a particular person,” the statement read, without specifying whether the target of the alleged attack was Budanova or her husband. The intelligence agency added that there are indications that the poisoning occurred from eating food. The Budanovs live at the GUR headquarters in Kyiv.

The agency did not specify when Budanova was hospitalized. It has been reported that she remains in hospital, that her medical treatment has ended and that she remains under observation. The newspaper Pravda cited other intelligence sources who claimed that more people besides Budanova were poisoned, but that they are in a less serious condition. Asked by Suspilne, Yusov declined to either confirm or deny whether she is the only person who required medical treatment.

Budanov holds one of the most important positions in the inner circle of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He is a lieutenant-general, a veteran of the Donbas war and one of the president’s most trusted soldiers. He is also one of the most popular figures in Ukraine and the main mastermind behind Ukrainian sabotage operations in Russian territory and in the Crimea Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by the Kremlin in 2014. Yusov claimed last August that Russia has tried to assassinate Budanov on several occasions.

Budanova is a police officer who works as an instructor of legal psychology at the National Police Academy, as her husband explained in an interview last September for the military information website The War Zone: “She has been living with me since the beginning of the invasion [in February 2022]. She is a police officer and for her it is not a problem like it could be for someone else.”

Russian infiltration

The news of the poisoning attempt comes at a time when Zelenskiy and his team have warned of an attempt at Russian infiltration into the Ukrainian power establishment. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security Council of Ukraine, stated this Monday in The Times that Moscow has activated a network of agents in Kyiv’s main institutions in order to destabilize the country and, above all, cause a fracture between Zelenskiy and his commander-in-chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

Zelenskiy and Zaluzhnyi displayed their differences for the first time this month. Zaluzhnyi explained to The Economist that the war was at a standstill and that there were no signs of major advances being made in the next year. The president publicly disavowed his commander-in-chief and relieved senior officials close to the latter. Mariana Bezuhla, a lawmaker for Zelenskiy’s party and a member of the parliament’s defense policy committee, wrote a statement on Sunday demanding the commander-in-chief’s dismissal.

Danilov sparked another controversy by stating in The Times that in the Ukrainian Security Services (the SSU, the secret services directly dependent on the presidency) there are also agents paid by the Kremlin. The SSU reacted with a statement in which it claimed that the British newspaper had misinterpreted Danilov’s words. Zelenskiy also claimed on November 17 that Russia had launched a plan to generate social instability in Ukraine that would lead to a coup.

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