75 people have been reported dead in the Siberian city of Irktusk after drinking Boyaryshnik, a bath lotion which the Moscow Times says “is often used as a vodka substitute for its high alcohol content”. Boyaryshnik is made from hawthorn berries and apparently contains methanol — a.k.a. wood alcohol, the kind that’ll make you go blind — as opposed to ethanol, the actually drinkable alcohol (within limits, of course). According to the Siberian Times, the ages of the people who were poisoned ranged from 25 to 62, with the male-female ratio about even.
According to the news agency Interfax (you’ll want to run this through a translator if you don’t read Russian), the Boyaryshnik labels say that it’s made with ethanol, which is probably why some people thought “hey, I don’t have to choose between getting drunk and being thrifty anymore!”
In addition to selling highly alcoholic bath lotion, black market dealers have also been selling fake vodka. A doctor named Alexei, a survivor of the counterfeit booze, tells this story:
‘I met with my old friends, and we decided to drink a bit. My mates bought vodka, I do not remember the label. The taste seemed to me strange, bitter. I drank only one shot and then went home.
We had a supper, then I played with my child and went to sleep. In the morning I was blind. I could not even see what is in my cell-phone. I wanted to get up, but my legs did not obey. I’m a doctor by education, so I quickly understood that I had been poisoned.
TASS, the Russian News Agency, has this unintentionally funny report that shines a light on Russian drinking culture:
It was initially reported Friday that the first methanol poisoning was registered in Bratsk, the region’s second largest city, but the news proved to be a common alcohol intoxication.
“The methanol poisoning was not confirmed in the hospitalized man. Doctors found out that it was an ordinary drinking binge. The man was scared by the events in Irkutsk and sought emergency medical aid,” Irina Vagunova said.
The man is undergoing treatment at a local hospital. His condition is stable.
Interfax reports that officials have seized 2,000 bottles of Boyaryshnik in inspections of places that sell alcohol (like the little store pictured in the background in the photo above) in Irktusk. They’ve also banned the sales of any non-food items that contain alcohol.
No Russian crisis story is complete without “Pootie-Poot”, and this one delivers. Interfax reports that he “instructed the government to prepare and submit proposals involving changes in the current rates of excise duties on alcohol and alcohol-containing products in order to reduce the demand for alcohol surrogates.”
He also stayed true to his standard playbook by suggesting that “foreign” people were involved with the inclusion of methanol into products that are supposed to contain only ethanol.