Ukraine sees this as Russia's signature. Kiev suspects Moscow of poisoning the wife of the head of Ukraine's military intelligence (GUR), Kyrylo Budanov, a spokesman for the structure, Andriy Yusov, told AFP.

"This is the main hypothesis," he said, assuring that it was not an accident but a deliberate poisoning with heavy metals, "in particular, mercury and arsenic".

According to Andriy Yusov, it was Marianna Budanova, not her husband, who "was the target". "It is simply impossible to directly reach the commander (Budanov) in this way," the spokesman said.

Traces of heavy metals were also found in "several" military intelligence associates, Andriy Yusov confirmed, without giving further details.

Russia has so far not reacted to these accusations.

Poison hidden in food

Marianna Budanova, who advises Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, was hospitalized "more than a week ago," Yusov said. However, it is impossible for the moment to establish the exact date of the poisoning because "the attack may have been prolonged in time," the spokesman said.

Earlier in the day, an intelligence source confirmed to AFP that Marianna Boudanova was suffering from heavy metal poisoning and was receiving treatment. "Their presence may indicate a deliberate attempt at poisoning," an intelligence source was quoted as saying by the Babel news site.

Read also"We won't stop": exiled, poisoned, Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko opens up

"In all likelihood," the poison was delivered "along with the food," a law enforcement source was quoted as saying by the Ukrainska Pravda website.

"She felt unwell, so (medical) tests were done and these showed poisoning," she said, adding that Marianna Boudanova was feeling better and had completed "the first stage of treatment".

24-hour set

Kyrylo Budanov, 37, has acquired an almost legendary aura since the start of the invasion by occupying this key position. He has been heading the Military Intelligence Department within the Ministry of Defense since 2020. This structure is considered responsible for several attacks against Russia since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022.

The Russian authorities accuse him of having organized the attack in October 2022 that partially destroyed the bridge linking Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow, to Russia.

Kyrylo Budanov said in August that his wife had been living with him "in his office" and had never left him for security reasons since the invasion began.

Read alsoAlexei Navalny's poisoning: 45 states demand explanations from Russia

"We are always together, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Marianna Budanova explained in an interview with the Ukrainian edition of Elle magazine, published in October 24.

She said she had learned to "control my emotions" long before the invasion, when her husband was away on long missions in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed pro-Russian separatists took up arms against Kyiv in 2014.

More than ten attempted attacks

Two months earlier, intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said Budanov had been the target of "more than 10" attempted attacks.

Bombs were planted in his car in 2019, an operation allegedly orchestrated by the Russian Security Service (FSB), according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general.

Russia has repeatedly been accused of poisoning Kremlin opponents or defectors, both inside and outside its borders, although it has always denied this.

With AFP

This week's recapFrance 24 invites you to look back on the news that marked the week

Subscribe now

Take international news with you wherever you go! Download the France 24 app