Where the Booze Can Kill, and Putin Is Deemed a ‘Good Czar’
Zoya Mukhamadeyeva, 59, whose son, Renat, was one of at least 76 victims of fatal alcohol poisoning in Irkutsk, Russia, in December. The cause was a tainted low-cost vodka substitute. Credit James Hill for The New York TimesBy NEIL MacFARQUHAR
FEB. 18, 2017, NYT
IRKUTSK, Russia — The overworked cleaning woman realized that her grown son was not just sleeping off his habitual hangover in the Siberian city of Irkutsk when she discovered — to her horror — that he had quietly gone blind.
Even as his speech slurred and his condition steadily deteriorated, the man, Renat V. Mukhamadeyev, 31, dissuaded his widowed mother from summoning an ambulance until about midnight. Wheeled into the emergency room at nearby Hospital No. 8 — by then a hellish madhouse of the dead and the dying — he fell into a coma and expired within a day, one of at least 76 victims of a mass alcohol poisoning.
To many outsiders, including President Trump and his inner circle of advisers, Russia is riding high today, strutting about the globe. It wields its clout both openly, by sending its military into Ukraine and Syria, and surreptitiously, warping politics in Europe and America through a sustained campaign of propaganda and cyberwarfare.
Yet, at home, the picture is decidedly bleaker.
Since oil prices plunged in 2014 and the West imposed economic sanctions over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Russia has been mired in a grinding recession that has lowered living standards throughout the country. For many people, this has meant exhausting savings, cutting back on expensive items like meat and fish, growing their own vegetables and — tragically, in the case of Irkutsk — buying cheap vodka substitutes.
Most of the afflicted in Irkutsk started that Saturday night in December just like Mr. Mukhamadeyev, trotting out to a local kiosk or small corner store to buy “boyaryshnik” — “hawthorn” in Russian, lending the product a false holistic air. The label called it bath oil and warned against drinking the contents, but it was common knowledge that bootleggers produced the rotgut specifically as poor man’s vodka.