Ukraine spy chief’s wife recovering after being poisoned

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

The wife of Ukraine’s top spy chief is recovering in hospital after being poisoned, a spokesperson for the country’s military intelligence agency said on Tuesday, after apparently eating food laced with “heavy metals”.

Marianna Budanova is the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, who heads Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency. It is unclear when the alleged poisoning happened. She complained of feeling unwell and was admitted to hospital for tests.

“Yes, I can confirm the information. Unfortunately, it is true,” the spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Reuters, following reports in the Ukrainian media. Several other GUR officials were also taken sick, it was claimed.

The news website Babel said Budanova had suffered from “a prolonged deterioration of her health”. Agency sources said heavy metals not found in “ordinary civilian or military life” were identified. “This was a purposeful attempt,” one said.

Budanov is a hate figure for the Kremlin and is widely regarded as a highly successful and versatile spymaster, responsible for a string of successful special operations, some of them deep inside Russian territory. He has survived a number of assassination attempts.

More than any other senior Ukrainian figure, Budanov has a knack for irritating and trolling Moscow. He gives reporters who visit him at the GUR’s heavily guarded office a humorous map of an imploded Russian Federation, divided into territories annexed by other countries.

The GUR provided no further details of the alleged plot. Nor did it speculate who may have carried it out. Budanova, a psychologist and aide to Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, is believed to live with her husband in his fortified headquarters.

Speaking in August, Budanov said he was constantly with his wife for safety reasons. If the poisoning is confirmed it represents a serious breach of security and the most high-profile attempt to murder a Ukrainian leadership family member since last year’s full-scale Russian invasion.

It also suggests Moscow has undercover assets inside Ukraine. According to Ukrainskaya Pravda, Budanova was making good progress. “She is doing better now as she has undergone the first stage of treatment,” a source told the paper.

They added: “Budanov’s wife is quite petite and lightweight, and so she developed symptoms quickly. Several other [GUR] employees were also poisoned. They have bigger builds and didn’t notice any signs. They are now receiving treatment.”

Budanov, 37, has himself been the target of 10 failed attempts on his life, including a botched car bombing.

Moscow has blamed Ukrainian secret services for the murders of a pro-war Russian blogger and a pro-war journalist on Russian soil. Kyiv denies involvement in those deaths.

In April a Russian court arrested Budanov in absentia on “terrorism charges”.

He has been fighting Russia in various guises for nearly a decade. In 2014 he took part in Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” in the east of the country after the Kremlin staged a partly successful covert takeover there. He was reportedly wounded three times, once seriously.

In 2020 he was appointed deputy director of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence agency. Soon afterwards the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, made him GUR chief, in charge of a major clandestine organisation. Earlier this year there were rumours he was being lined up as defence minister.

This did not happen but in September Budanov was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. He has yet to comment on his wife’s poisoning.