It took just two hours for Pyotr Verzilov to go from full health to the intensive care unit of a Moscow hospital last night.
The 30-year-old Russian-Canadian political activist first started to feel ill, lost his vision, then the ability to talk or walk, all before the ambulance arrived.
His friends say that doctors have yet to provide a medical diagnosis, but they believe they know the cause — poison.
Members of the band Pussy Riot — part of the art-and-protest collective that Verzilov helped found a decade ago — took to Twitter to announce their suspicions and find an expert toxicologist.
These days, Verzilov is the publisher of Mediazona, an independent online news site that focuses on human rights issues in Russia and is frequently critical of Vladimir Putin.
He is also in a relationship with Veronika Nikulshina, a member of Pussy Riot, and was part of the group’s on-field protest against political repression during the final of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow in July.
Verzilov’s comrades have yet to say how he might have been poisoned, or with what. But it’s not hard to infer who they believe is behind the alleged attack — their enemies in the Kremlin.
Poison has long been a favoured weapon of the Russian state and its intelligence services.
The Soviets established their first poison lab in 1921 and made fast progress in developing a variety of hard-to-detect and lethal substances by testing them on political prisoners.
Sometimes the poison is delivered in spectacular fashion, like infamous 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was pricked by a ricin-tipped umbrella as he crossed Waterloo Bridge in London.