The Guardian

‘It’s got me’: the lonely death of the Soviet scientist poisoned by novichok

Andrei Zheleznyakov was working on chemical weapons in the 1980s when a hood malfunction exposed him to the deadly nerve agent
Story about Andrei Zheleznyakov from the now-defunct Russian newspaper Novoye Vremya. Photograph: Handout

Before former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury on 4 March, the only other person confirmed to suffer the effects of novichok was a young Soviet chemical weapons scientist.

“Circles appeared before my eyes: red and orange. A ringing in my ears, I caught my breath. And a sense of fear: like something was about to happen,” Andrei Zheleznyakov told the now-defunct newspaper Novoye Vremya, describing the 1987 weapons lab incident that exposed him to a nerve agent that would eventually kill him. “I sat down on a chair and told the guys: ‘It’s got me.’”

By 1992, when the interview was published, the nerve agent had gutted Zheleznyakov’s central nervous system. Less than a year later he was dead, after battling cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.

But by deciding to go public, he joined those blowing the whistle on a chemical weapons in which each pledged to halt the production of chemical weapons.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Guardian

The Guardian4 min read
Colombia's Rebel Poets: From 'Verbal Terrorists' To Favoured Sons
The Nadaistas, an iconoclastic group of young poets in Medellín, once sparked outrage but now their influence is felt from the metro to the corridors of power
The Guardian3 min read
‘Goats Are The Best Tool’: Grazers In High Demand To Reduce US Wildfire Risk
In the face of climate change and deadly fires, states from California to Colorado are turning hungry animals loose on the countryside
The Guardian8 min read
How Online Surveillance Is Killing Private Conversations
The Kim Darroch leaks highlight how hard it is to keep any communication confidential. How can we regain our privacy?