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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Doctors Secretly Assisted Yushchenko

WASHINGTON -- American doctors secretly assisted in the treatment of Viktor Yushchenko after he was apparently poisoned while running for president of Ukraine, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

U.S. officials kept the doctors' role secret because they did not want to appear to be interfering in the tumultuous Ukrainian election.

Yushchenko, who won a Dec. 26 election after an earlier vote was disallowed because of fraud, fell ill in September after dining with the former head of the Ukrainian security services. He was treated in an Austrian hospital, and tests confirmed he had been poisoned with a massive dose of dioxin.

A team of doctors flew to Vienna in December. The lead doctor, Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the University of Virginia's Critical Incident Analysis Group, said the U.S. government was not involved in their work.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the department provided "limited assistance."

The Washington Post, which first reported about the team, quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying the doctors became involved after Yushchenko's family appealed for assistance through a Pentagon official. The State Department provided logistical support for the doctors' trip, the official said.

Saathoff stayed in touch with the State Department, and informed them that team members were being followed by police or Russian intelligence agents and would cut short their trip, the official told the Post.

 Ukrainian Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko gave the new government's sharpest warning yet to former President Leonid Kuchma, saying the former leader has reason to worry about the investigation into journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's death in 2000. Lutsenko told Ukraine's Grani Plus web site that the apparent suicide note left by Kuchma's former interior minister, Yury Kravchenko, "placed all the dots over the i's."

Authorities have said Kravchenko left behind a note attacking Kuchma. Kuchma has denied all allegations against him.

 Ukraine will abandon visas for visiting European Union citizens within days, and in return hopes for an easier EU visa regime for its nationals, Yushchenko said Friday.

 Yushchenko and U.S. President George W. Bush are expected to sign a document outlining prospects for increased bilateral cooperation during a visit by Yushchenko to the United States on April 4.

 Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said she ardently opposed changes to the constitution that would limit Yushchenko's responsibilities and make her post more powerful. Parliament approved the changes in December, allowing a rerun of the rigged presidential election.

 Ukraine withdrew 150 servicemen from Iraq on Saturday, starting a gradual pullout that is to be completed by October.

(AP, Reuters)