From Pasteur and Mechnikov — to «reform» and actual liquidation: the whole truth about the «secret American biolaboratory» in Odesa


Deutsche Русский

So-called «Secret American biolaboratories» in Ukraine’s different regions became a hot topic to the world's major media. «Biolabs!» — hosts of American TV shows roll their eyes, and Russian representatives convene meetings of the UN Security Council, to which they bring more and more of the ridiculous «evidence.»

We, journalists from Odesa, watch this whole affair with a mixture of sarcasm and horror. We know very well what it’s all about. We already did photo reports from this «secret facility» a long time ago and we understand how necessary and how important this project was for science in Ukraine. For years we have made efforts to sustain this unique scientific center.

Unfortunately, without success.

Today, this sensitive topic is used to justify a full-scale invasion of our country, bombardment of Ukrainian cities, preparations for the use of weapons of mass destruction, initiation of World War III and a possible murder of millions of people. In this situation, we cannot remain silent and we consider it our duty to tell the truth.


PASTEUR, MECHNIKOV, GAMALEYA

The labs in Odesa have been working with inhibitors of particularly dangerous infections for almost a century and a half. The very first bacteriological station here was founded by the future Nobel Prize winner, Professor Ilya Mechnikov.

Upon discovering that the French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur had invented a way to cure Rabies with a vaccine, Mechnikov sent to Paris his apprentice, doctor Nikolai Gamaleya from Odesa — the one who now bears the name of the famous Russian center of epidemiology and microbiology.

After a year of internship, Gamaleya returned to Odesa where he became the head of the world's second Pasteur station. Here vaccines were made and rabies victims and animals were treated. The first inoculations were done in 1886.

In addition to rabies, Odesa station studied pathogens of other dangerous diseases: cholera, typhoid, typhus, anthrax, tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis.

Odesa microbiologists worked in close contact with colleagues from other countries. In 1887, Ilya Mechnikov moved to Paris where he continued to work at the Pasteur laboratory for many years. He regularly visited his homeland. In 1905, Mechnikov became deputy director of the Pasteur Institute and in 1908, together with Paul Ehrlich, a disciple of Robert Koch, Mechnikov received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

The work continued also during Soviet times. In 1923, the Station became the Bacteriological and Physiological Institute named after Dr. Gamaleya, and was later transformed into Odesa Research Institute of Virology and Epidemiology.

Protection of people and animals from particularly dangerous infections, common in Moldova and the south of Ukraine, was the main focus of Odesa microbiologists.

The plague — Black Death — was a serious problem for many years. To combat this menacing disease, a network of anti-plague stations was established near natural hotspots in various parts of the USSR. Two stations were located in Ukraine: one in Simferopol and another one in Odesa. Over the years, Odesa doctors and scientists have recorded numerous cases of plague, and thanks to the efficient work of biologists and epidemiologists none of them caused a large outbreak.

In 1999 the Station was merged with the Institute of Virology and Microbiology, and that’s how the Ukrainian Research Anti-Plague Institute (UAPRI) was born. The Institute is deservedly named after the Nobel Prize laureate Ilya Mechnikov.


WAR AND PEACE

Dr. of Biological Sciences Ivan Rusev researched plague transmission pathways and mechanisms in Central Asia and Ukrainian steppe areas for many years. Upon graduation from the Biology department of Odesa State University in 1981 he started working at the plague prevention station and later at the Institute. Rusev headed the laboratory devoted to the ecology of carriers and pathogenic vectors of dangerous infections. Between 2001 and 2014 he held various positions at UAPRI, including that of Deputy Director for Research.

«I have been working in epidemiology related classified scientific research institutions for more than thirty years» Dr. Rusev told the reporter from Dumskaya. As Deputy Director for Research, I collaborated with a wide variety of research centers within the former USSR as well as beyond. I can assure you that Ukraine has never been involved in research and development of biological weapons, neither during Soviet times, nor after becoming an independent country. Ukrainian epidemiological laboratories did not have access to such projects and were involved with purely peaceful projects related to infection prevention and monitoring.

According to Rusev, classified programs related to bacteriological weapons development were implemented at the Mikrob institute in Saratov. Vector, the largest Russian research center in Novosibirsk, was also involved in military projects using viruses.

According to Dr. Rusev’s recollections, biological weapons development and human trials were conducted on Vozrozhdenie Island (currently a peninsula) and Barsa-Kelmes, a former island in the Aral sea (currently Kazakhstan’s territory).

«I researched natural plague foci for many years,» says the scientist. — «I extensively traveled in the Karakum Desert close to the Aral Sea, wrote a monograph, devoted to the plague in Odesa, which occurred in the city eighteen times. And nevertheless Barsa-Kelmes still remained a closed area even for scientists such as myself».


APPLICATIONS

Zoologist Dmitry Sokolovsky devoted almost twenty years of his life to working at UAPRI.

«I have been working in the so-called applied science department — D.S. explained. My colleagues and I searched for and collected a variety of biomaterials. We were doing a lot of field work such as collecting rodents, ticks, mosquitoes, which can be potential carriers of infectious diseases, as well as collecting various water, soil and animal fecal samples».

The collection of microorganism strains, recognized in 2004 by Ukrainian Ministry of Health as the national treasure, became the pinnacle of more than fifty years worth of zoologists' work.

Access to such a collection enabled robust functioning of the Institute’s two other branches: the research branch and the production branch, which supported Odesa’s Bioprom production facility.


THE ENTERPRISE THAT NO LONGER EXISTS

Irina Grigorasheva worked at Bioprom-Odesa as deputy director responsible for quality control. She developed technologies for the production of various bacterial and viral preparations for medical and agricultural purposes.

«In its best years, our company produced more than forty different products,» she says. «We produced standardized strains; our production facility was considered one of the best in the USSR. We also made live weakened vaccines against influenza, vaccines and serums against various animal and human diseases, and probiotics — bifido and lactobacilli for the prevention and treatment of dysbacteriosis.»

Bioprom produced attenuated and inactivated vaccines using traditional technology: growing a particular strain on a nutrient medium or cell culture, and then chemically or physically attenuating or completely inactivating it.

«Without samples of the pathogen, it is impossible to make a drug, check quality and efficacy, or, say, make a test-kit and check its effectiveness,» the specialist notes.

Currently, Irina Grigorasheva is the director of a private enterprise Vozrozhdenie M, the author and co-author of six patents in virology, immunology, and zootechnics.

Irina recalls the work of Bioprom with nostalgia. Production was stopped back in 2001. At present not only the high-tech production lines, but even facility premises have been destroyed, and the grounds of the company are used as a parking lot.


THE DIFFICULT NINETIES

The 1990s and 2000s were a difficult period for Ukrainian science. The country’s been through a rough patch. State funding shrank to a minimum. There was hope for foreign aid in the form of orders for scientific research or direct financing under intergovernmental target programs.

In 1993 an agreement was signed by the governments of Ukraine, Canada, USA and Sweden to create the Ukrainian Science and Technology Center (USTC). This intergovernmental institution sought funding for peaceful projects to «keep afloat» research institutes in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

The UAPRI was not part of the Soviet biological weapons complex, so it was left without funding, which Western countries generously allocated to former Soviet developers of weapons of mass destruction to keep them from selling their knowledge to terrorists and rogue-states.

The results were as expected. In 2005, Raymond Zilinskas, an American scientist and expert on Soviet chemical and biological weapons programs, visited the Odesa Institute. He found no weapons development here, but noted the catastrophically low level of security. In particular, he drew attention to the vulnerability of the laboratory to unauthorized access, poor quality of personal protective equipment for employees who worked in ordinary cotton lab coats. He especially noted the lack of an effective ventilation system, which sometimes necessitated working on especially dangerous pathogens with the windows open.

In an interview with American journalists, he voiced his concern that the condition of the Odesa laboratory could lead to pathogen leaks or their falling into unscrupulous hands.

The media outcry helped find funds to upgrade the laboratory through the STCU. The U.S. Department of Defense, the leading U.S. biosecurity agency, funded the work.


US SUPPORT

Dr. of Medical Sciences Andrey Volyansky is an immunologist and head of Your Baby — Your Family family medicine network. He was Deputy Director for Research at UAPRI during 2006-2007, and Acting Director of the institute in 2007.

«Over the course of several days in March 2006, employees of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) (US) toured several Ukrainian scientific institutes with a proposal to upgrade storage facilities that contained pathogen collections' ' - Dr. Volyansky recalls. «The offer was extended on a strictly voluntary basis. The Odesa and Crimea anti-plague institutes, the Central Sanitary Epidemiological Station, the Lviv Research Institute of Epidemiology and Hygiene and the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Veterinary Medicine in Kharkiv agreed to collaborate within the framework of the program. A number of scientific centers refused the offer, and that puzzled the Americans''.

The US Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Ministry of Health signed an agreement within the STCU framework. First stage funding was a modest eight million dollars. The work was conducted by Ukrainian contractors.

Research branch modernization, specifically of the virology lab and the microorganism collection, started in the spring of 2007. Neither the name, nor the purpose of the lab changed. Modernization provided an access control system, cryogenic freezers to store samples at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees centigrade, modern equipment including a molecular DNA sequencer and PCR testing systems, as well as raised the laboratory's biosafety level to BSL-3».

To clarify: BSL-1 is a safety level at a hospital based lab. Here they collect, store and handle blood samples and sputum cultures. BSL-2 is a more strict safety level that is necessary for HIV testing and testing for other chronic infectious diseases. Labs that support BSL-3 safety level can handle dangerous pathogens, as those labs have special ventilation, personal protective equipment and access control systems. The strictest safety level, BSL-4, allows labs to research pathogens of diseases without a known cure. Such a lab exists at Novosibirsk-based Vector. Ukraine does not have and never had such a lab.

«The second stage of the program began in 2007 — the modernization of laboratories at regional sanitary epidemiological stations (SES) throughout Ukraine», continues Andrei Volyansky. «Thanks to US aid, laboratory centers at Ukrainian SES received modern equipment. That's why we were able to set up coronavirus testing in all regions relatively quickly in 2020. Last year, these laboratories were transformed into regional Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health».

It should be noted that in the 2000s, the United States proposed deploying a network of thirty similar high-tech bio-laboratories around the world, including Russia. Such a network would have allowed for a rapid and effective response to biological threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, monitoring the spread of pathogens and mutation trends. Alas, the Russian side flatly refused to participate in such cooperation, and the project was never implemented.


«SECRET AMERICAN LABORATORIES»

It is now very easy to find out where the laboratories of regional SES were located in Ukraine. The frightening yellow circles with the symbol of a biological threat on the map of Ukraine, which the Russian propaganda is touting these days, are those laboratories. Recently, the occupiers «denazified» the regional laboratory center on Uvarov Street in temporarily occupied Kherson. The footage from the center is presented as «evidence of a secret facility where biological weapons were being developed under American leadership».

Dr. Volansky is outraged by the deceitfulness and cynicism of Russian propagandists. He is not the only one. The community of biology graduates from Russian universities, including Moscow State University, published an open letter to the Russian pro-government media. The scientists refute the propaganda lie that Ukraine has allegedly hastily eliminated traces of the biological weapons program, and demand that the flow of slander be stopped.

«The list of destroyed strains published by RIA Novosti and other Russian media does not contain a single one classified as especially dangerous. The list contains only strains common to microbiological and even more so to epidemiological laboratories,» says the appeal, which was published by Yevgeny Levitin, a microbiologist, PhD in Biology and graduate of Moscow State University. «We demand to stop the false, completely groundless and hateful statements about the allegedly discovered evidence of biological weapons development in Ukrainian laboratories».


ALONG BIRD MIGRATION ROUTES

It must be said that scientists from the Mechnikov Ukrainian Research Anti-Plague Institute collaborated not only with American colleagues, but also with scientists from other countries of the world, including Russia.

«Work on the study of migratory birds intensified in 2005,» recalls Ivan Rusev. «Back then, during the mass spread of bird flu, this topic became one of the most important in the world. We studied migration routes and mechanisms of virus transmission between populations,»

Migratory birds cross borders, seas, and continents, so such work is impossible without cooperation with scientists from different countries.

«Until 2013, we actively cooperated with Russian researchers,» Rusev continued. — We worked closely with scientists from Novosibirsk Vector', the Gamaleya Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, and the Martsinovsky Institute of Tropical Medicine in Moscow. They came to us regularly, we visited them — it was a full-fledged scientific collaboration.


Мemories of a visit to the Novosibirsk «Vector». Photo from the personal archive of Ivan Rusev

Professor Rusev recalls how in Odesa they once discovered a gull that had been ringed in Novosibirsk.

«We contacted our colleagues, found the ornithologist who put on this ring, and congratulated him on a major scientific success,» he says.

Migratory birds have become a priority topic for scientists. In 2013 Ivan Rusev completed his doctoral dissertation on the ecology of the Northern Black Sea coast. Now he leads scientific research at the Tuzly Lagoons National Nature Park, protects sanctuary lands from poachers and fights for the creation of new protected areas in the Odesa region.


Rusev preparing to survey pelicans. Photo by Irina Vykhristiuk

«The use of bird flu pathogens as biological weapons is complete nonsense from both a scientific and a technological point of view,» Rusev has no doubts. — Now this nonsense is being assiduously spread around the world by a certain Igor Kirillov. We know him well, but not as a scientist, but as a lieutenant general of the invading army.

Once again: the «secret American laboratory» was completely open to Russian microbiologists, who came here for many years — until the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the Donbass. It was also open to journalists: in 2012, Dumskaya correspondents published a detailed report from the UAPRI, including from the BSL-3 laboratory.


HOW «EVIDENCE» GETS FABRICATED

We looked into the origins of other «evidence» that Russian propagandists are now touting to justify the war of aggression, the Russian invasion and the killing of thousands of peaceful Ukrainians.

On the very first day of the large-scale invasion, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health tooks steps to address storage conditions of dangerous samples in regional laboratory centers. Even a used syringe or a cotton swab used to wipe an injection site are considered by law to be hazardous waste and require a special disposal procedure.

Human and animal pathogen samples used in epidemiological laboratories require even more care. Therefore, in a situation of uncertainty, an order was sent out for the disposal of all dangerous pathogens.


Russian government media used the order of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health for propaganda

This difficult decision was made at the recommendation of the World Health Organization to prevent any potential pathogen leak.

As many other countries, Ukraine has public health laboratories that investigate how to reduce the threat of dangerous diseases, — said the WHO. — Biosafety experts believe that the introduction of Russian troops into Ukraine and the bombardment of cities increased the risk of leakage of pathogens in the event of damage to any of these facilities».

As you can see, the World Health Organization does not consider Ukrainian medical laboratories to be a threat to human health, unlike Russian aggression and the barbaric bombing of cities by the Russian army. This WHO statement was published by both Russian and world's leading media outlets.

The disposal orders did not contain any classified information, they were sent by the Ministry of Health to the regions in a very ordinary e-mail. In response, execution reports containing lists of pathogens began to arrive. They included many Latin names of various microorganisms, and Russian propaganda immediately began waving them around as «evidence».

However, one glance at the list of disposed samples is enough for any specialist to say with confidence: the «secret American laboratories» were engaged in counteracting hospital infections, ensuring food safety and monitoring vaccine-preventable infections, in particular diphtheria. Any disease prevention or epidemiological laboratory should have such samples.


Reports on the destruction of pathogens in regional laboratories in Poltava and Kharkov, which is used by Russian propaganda. The list includes reference samples of strains of interest for sanitation and hygiene


THE INSTITUTE THAT NO LONGER EXISTS

Unfortunately, we have to admit that the Mechnikov Ukrainian Research Anti-Plague Institute, which for many years was one of the leading research centers in Ukraine, has been de-facto non-existent for several years.

It was not destroyed by Russian bombs and shells, but by our Ukrainian «healthcare reformers».

Once there were about 200 employees, including more than fifty scientists, working at UAPRI. In recent years there has been no scientific work at the institute.

Sergey Pozdnyakov, PhD in Medicine and former director of UAPRI, ended up being its last researcher. In recent years, he held the position of Deputy Director for Research and was a member of the liquidation commission.

«I devoted my whole life to the institute,» Sergey Pozdnyakov says with pain in his voice. «We were a leading world class scientific center. The institute had qualified personnel, there were achievements, there was a unique collection of pathogens, there was a production base. Our specialists participated in the elimination of epidemics and outbreaks in different countries. We produced vaccines, medications, biopreparations, and developed the most advanced methods. For example, I was engaged in developing bacteriophages — they can become a more effective and safer treatment option for infections, compared to antibiotics. None of this exists right now. And the worst thing is that we have destroyed it with our own hands».

Work at the laboratory ceased in 2014, and total liquidation of the unique institute began in 2015 by order of Ukraine’s Minister of Health Oleksandr Kvitashvili. Then, in a misguided reformist impulse, the vertical axis of the Sanitary Epidemiological Service was illegally dismantled, supposedly in order to fight corruption within its ranks. According to this flawed logic, in order to eliminate bribery within the State Emergency Service, all fire-fighters and rescue workers should be dismissed, and in order to fight corruption in the Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces should be dissolved.

Then, seven years ago, the decision was made to take regional laboratory centers and specialized scientific research institutions from under the ministry umbrella and transfer them into the hands of the state institution — Center for Public Health.

«This reorganization turned into a total destruction of our institute, which has been going on for seven years,» says Sergey Pozdnyakov. «They stopped funding research. They began firing staff. They stopped maintaining equipment, freezers and ventilation systems in the laboratory started to fail. The institute was literally taken apart piece by piece. I could not stand it all and retired three years ago».


Registration data of UAPRI is the date of writing of the publication. «Reorganization» stretched for years.

Dumskaya.net, the Odesa local media, has repeatedly called attention to this situation. But to no avail — the destruction of the research center continued, while ministry officials and U.S. embassy officials observed the proceedings with Olympian calm and Ukrainian «opposition» politicians gleefully cheered.

Ironically, the agony of the UAPRI was somewhat slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic. It got some funding, managed to put back online the American PCR testing equipment, installed back in 2007, and started running tests for coronavirus. By and large, this is all that the institute is capable of now: a unique research center has been reduced to the level of an ordinary local lab.

The final line in the destruction of Ukrainian research centers was drawn in August 2021 by Vladyslav Zbanatsky, Deputy Director General of the Center for Public Health of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. Responding to an information request, he officially announced that there no longer were any laboratories with BSL-3 level of biological protection in Ukraine.

You can say that this is where the history of «American laboratories» ends. Ukrainian science has been rolled back dozens of years.

«Many former employees of the institute, my colleagues, and my students continue to work successfully in leadership positions in leading scientific institutions around the world» — says Sergey Pozdnyakov. — «Their knowledge, talents and experience are in high demand, and they continue to make important contributions to world science. The only thing that warms my soul at the moment is the understanding that my work at UAPRI was not in vain».


CONCLUSION

Odesa, which was once one of the world’s leading centers in the fields of bacteriology, virology and microbiology, has entirely lost its scientific and manufacturing potential in those fields. How did this happen? Was it a result of sabotage, disorganization, or was it a side effect of incompetent, hasty and ruthless «reforms»? This question will be answered by historians and, hopefully, by law enforcement, who should investigate the obvious signs of a crime against Ukrainian science and the squandering of $25 million of US taxpayer money spent on a biosecurity program in Ukraine.

Nonetheless it is monstrous to call people who researched dangerous infections, protected people from diseases and epidemics, developed and manufactured vaccines, medications, and supplements as «bioterrorists». It is just as hideous as calling Louis Pasteur, Ilya Mechnikov, and Nikolai Gamaleya «criminals» just because their laboratories collected and studied dangerous viruses and bacteria.

It is even more revolting when the lies and defamation turn into a weapon in their own right, this time a propaganda weapon. When the work and achievements of scientists in exclusively peaceful projects are used to justify an aggressive war, the bombing of peaceful cities, and mass murder. Russian toxic propaganda is used to poison millions of people around the world to prepare a foothold and justification for physical destruction of civilians.

Remember: Russian officials are lying every time they open their mouths!


Written by Serhiy Dibrov,
dumskaya.net, Odesa, Ukraine

The Editorial Board would like to thank the volunteers for their participation in the preparation of this translation.
This work is dedicated to the public domain.





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