Illustration: Boris Khmelniy / Mediazona
Three employees of Donpromkabel in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) ended up in hospital with intoxication after a birthday party—their relatives are blaming the vodka V that recently appeared on the shelves of Donetsk, and which the victims had drunk. Latin-script letters V and Z were painted on military vehicles of the invading Russian army and subsequently became symbols of the war against Ukraine in Russian propaganda. The distillery that produces the vodkas V and Z said they had not heard of such a case and called the relatives’ reports “fake information spread by Ukrainian sources.”
On the evening of Sunday 3rd July, three employees of the Donpromkabel factory in Donetsk gathered to celebrate a birthday in one of the company’s offices. On the table, according to their families, were several plates of snacks and a couple of bottles of V vodka, which recently began production at a distillery in the self-proclaimed DPR.
“I saw it on sale recently,” Aleksander, son of Pyotr Semyonov from the company, told Mediazona. “The men must have decided to try something novel.”
After a couple of hours, 59-year-old Semyonov began feeling ill, says his son, with nausea and severe dizziness. He went to the toilet and, on returning to the office, fainted. Yet his friends could not help him.
“Everyone there was already in the same state,” says Alexander. “My father doesn’t drink much at all; he didn’t drink at all for some time, then he started again… Now he berates himself for starting again, especially that vodka.”
Anna, daughter of department head Nikolay Dvoroviy, added that the factory’s duty officer had noticed the employees’ unusual behaviour. He may have been the one to sound the alarm. As the three men began to feel bad during the evening, she says that a factory employee took them to the city’s Central Clinical Hospital 6.
All three, according to their families, were first admitted to the toxicology department. “They were given stomach pumps and all sorts of vitamins and liquids,” recounts Alexander Semyonov. His father remains in toxicology, but Dvoroviy and the third colleague, whose birthday was being celebrated, have been transferred to ophthalmology since both have had a dramatic deterioration in their eyesight.
“By the fifth day, Dad could hardly see anything anymore out of his left eye, the right one at least a little,” sighs Anna. “The other guy also has a decrease in vision, but not as severe. As of today, they have confirmed that Dad has optic atrophy in both eyes.”
Alexander Semyonov says that on the morning of 4th July he learned about the incident from his mother and immediately went to the factory, where DPR police officers were already present. In the office where the factory workers were drinking, Alexander noticed slight untidiness and vomit on the floor.
“They had quite a set up there, plates full of salad, meat, everything as usual,” he notes. “Well, and then there was vomit. That’s all, I guess.”
Alexander says he saw two bottles of V vodka in the office: a yellow label with camouflage print and the inscription ‘To Truth!’ under the neck. One of the bottles, which still contained alcohol, was taken from the office by police officers. “Maybe they will perform some kind of examination,” adds Semyonov uncertainly.
It is not known whether this has happened yet. According to Anna Dvorovaya, the police have not contacted the family since the report was filed on 4th July.
V vodka, distilled from wheat, is produced at Liquor Distillery 2 in Donetsk. The website says the drink is made with a base of ‘Alpha fifth-generation alcoholic spirit,’ along with other products, such as three varieties of Empire vodka, Stolnaya vodka with a label reminiscent of Stolichnaya and a ‘Russian’ Z vodka. The latter has almost the same design as the V vodka drunk by the Donpromkabel workers, only the label is green and inscribed under the neck is ‘To Victory!’ instead of ‘To Truth!’
Anna says that she only noticed the V and Z vodkas in shops in Donetsk at the end of June, but it must have appeared somewhat earlier: Ukrainian publications posted photos of the new vodka in DPR shops back in May. Information on it is only available on the distillery’s website, and there have not been any posts about this ‘Russian’ vodka on the company’s Instagram or Facebook pages yet.
Liquor Distillery 2 had not heard about the recent poisoning linked to their new product, deputy director of the distillery Dmitriy Orlov told Mediazona. According to him, no police officers have approached them.
“Let me say right away that this is a lie, because reports to the police are considered within ten days, and our production is one of the biggest in the country, so if there had been such an incident, we would have already been informed… No communications from official bodies were received the following day. We have a major enterprise, serious accreditation, laboratories, and the appropriate checks are always carried out,” Orlov insists.
During the conversation he mentioned several times that the plant is not the only producer of alcohol in the DPR, but refused to answer the question on whether any competitors produce vodka with a similar name and design.
The company’s deputy director insists that the rumours of poisoning were released to discredit their distillery.
“Most likely, this is fake information spread by Ukrainian sources,” reasons Orlov. “Producers are working under very difficult conditions now, and any shocks can cause anything… up to and including plant shutdowns. There are a lot of fraudsters who take advantage of the vulnerability of large enterprises, which are very worried about their reputation and the quality of their products. They are trying their best to discredit producers! You understand that no one makes one or two bottles of vodka, they are insanely large batches. It’s impossible that only one person was poisoned out of a whole batch. This just does not happen in our industry.”
An employee of Donpromkabel, who did not identify himself to Mediazona, said that “there have been no such incidents… At the moment there’s no one—as you say three people—no comments or complaints. I have to disappoint you, we have had no such incidents. Please be careful not to mislabel honest people.” He did not even ask for the names of the employees.
Anna Dvorovaya, daughter of the Donpromkabel employee who was partially blinded, says that her father and his close colleagues are a ‘patriotically-minded’ group, and they would not defame the distillery or the DPR in this way. Anna says she only fears more poisonings since V vodka is still freely available.
Anna adds that she asked to have a post about the poisoning published by the local Telegram channels ‘Tipichniy Donetsk’ and ‘CHP Donetsk’, but she did not even get any response. The post only appeared on the Russian channel CHTD.
“My father has not only been for Putin since 2014, he has always been,” she said. ‘Putin is good, Putin is doing great! What Putin’s doing is the right way to go.’ He and I have had clashes about that for a long time. That’s why, I think, they decided to try this vodka in the first place.”
Editor: Yegor Skovoroda
Translation: Ivan Ignatiev.
Support Mediazona now!
Your donations directly help us continue our work