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2 poisoned Americans leave Moscow


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Mar. 8

MOSCOW - Two American women who were hospitalized in Moscow for suspected thallium poisoning flew home to the United States Wednesday, as colleagues and relatives struggled to understand how the two were exposed to a potentially fatal chemical.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman identified the women as Marina Kovalevsky and her daughter, Yana, and said Russian officials were investigating how and when they could have come into contact with poison.

Moscow police declined to comment, but the Ekho Moskvy radio reported authorities were checking cafes and restaurants in the area of the hotel where the women stayed.

The hospital where the women were treated since falling ill Feb. 24 said Wednesday morning they were in moderately serious condition and Moscow's top public health doctor, Nikolai Filatov, was quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency as saying that thallium poisoning had been confirmed.

Marina Kovalevsky, 49, and her daughter Yana, 26, are Soviet-born and emigrated to the United States in 1989. They have visited Russia repeatedly since then, relatives and colleagues said.

In West Hollywood, Calif., where Marina Kovalevsky opened an internal medicine practice six or seven years ago, relatives said she left for Moscow on Feb. 14 to attend a friend's party.

Surrounded by the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, West Hollywood has a large Russian-speaking immigrant community.

Oyuna Chuluun, a medical assistant at Kovalevsky's clinic, said she thought the apparent poisoning was an accident. She said her employer was divorced.

"We just don't believe someone would want to poison her," Chuluun said.

A colleague, Dr. Arkady Stern, told The Associated Press that Marina Kovalevsky left Los Angeles "in a good state of health, in good spirits."

Stern said that after it was suspected she was poisoned, Marina Kovalevksy was given dialysis and took an antidote and her condition began to improve. He said that since both women had the same symptoms, it led to suspicion they were poisoned, but he believed it was "some sort of tragic mistake."

There was no indication the women had business or political interests in Russia that could have made them a target for poisoning.

"She (Marina) didn't have enemies. Everybody loved her. She's a great doctor," Stern said.

Olga Tabarovskaya, a cousin of Marina Kovalevsky, said she spoke with her two nights ago.

"She said she was tired but was very anxious to come back," Tabarovskaya said.

The two women were scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles later Wednesday on an Aeroflot flight from Moscow.

How the two might have ingested the poison — a colorless, tasteless substance that can be fatal in doses of as little as one gram — was not clear.

Thallium is a reputed poison of choice for assassins. It was initially suspected to be the toxin used in last year's fatal poisoning in London of former Russian KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, but it was later determined he had ingested the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

For poisoning purposes, thallium would be in a powdery or crystallized state. The poison works by knocking out the body's supply of potassium, essential for healthy cells, and attacking the nervous system, the stomach and kidneys. Its effects are not immediately noticeable and frequently take weeks to kick in; symptoms include hair loss and a burning sensation in extremities.

In the past, thallium has been used in rat poison and it continues to be used industrially to manufacture products including glass lenses, semiconductors, dyes and pigments.


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