At the Request of the Prime Minister and Department of Foriegn Affairs
This Story Appeared in The Medical Post April 2012 Edition- ForFULL STORY
A medical mission with spy novel intrigue
Three Canadian physicians venture to the Ukraine to assess the ailing former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, in jail
Near the chilly end of February, three Canadian physicians on a special medical mission flew out of Toronto and into the murky world of post-Soviet Ukrainian politics.
At the behest of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade they were en route to a remote Ukrainian prison housing the ailing politician, Yulia Tymoshenko.
The events that followed sound like fodder for a Cold War spy novel. The details could make you wonder whether the Iron Curtain hadn’t really been torn down, but rather was pulled back into the wings, ready to veil the international stage at a moment’s notice.
But days later, locked deep inside the Ukrainian prison and separated from the Canadian ambassador, she wasn’t so sure about the adventure. Ukrainian bureaucrats had suddenly told the three they could not leave. “They said, ‘You can’t go back.’ I said, ‘Sure I can,’ and they said, ‘You can’t go back.’ I must admit my heart gave one little flip.”
The medical mission included fellow Canadians Dr. Peter Kujtan and Dr. George Rewa. All three are of Ukrainian heritage, but they hadn’t been following the political situation where many were calling for an independent medical mission to examine Tymoshenko, who had been felled by a mysterious illness.
There were conference calls with Foreign Affairs officials who helped obtain equipment for the trip, much of it on loan: a point-of-care testing kit, a transvaginal ultrasound machine, and supplies to transport sterile blood and other samples. They were also loaned a Geiger counter.
The independence of the testing materials was crucial for Dr. Kujtan, who is a coroner in Mississauga, Ont., with training in toxicology. He says he tried to downplay his experience, but, he says in an interview with the Medical Post, “They found out pretty quickly about me.” Dr. Kujtan wanted to ensure “anything we collected would be able to hold up to scrutiny.”
As it was, his knowledge and the equipment packed into two, steel, hard-side suitcases raised the suspicions of the Ukraine authorities. Upon landing in the Ukraine, the cases proved problematic. Dr. Kutjan told the authorities, “You can’t go opening up my things because you are going to contaminate any samples.”