Weekly column by Marc Bennetts
A lot of strange and sad things that happen in Russia. Many occur and fade away, lost to us with the relentless passing of time, tragic weirdness transformed slowly into nothingness. Today, lest he also be forgotten forever, I bring you the strange tale of Dmitry Butakov – a man who dreamed of lasting fame.
It was a little over eight years ago when Butakov, from the central Russian town of Lipetsk, invited Russian and foreign journalists to a bar he had booked to help him celebrate his 42nd birthday. But this was no ordinary party.
His mother, like a dutiful parent, had bought a cake and made a salad for the event. But before they all began eating, Butakov proposed a toast to his guests. “For the health of all humankind!” he said – and downed a 300ml shot of anti-freeze. (The journalists made do with vodka.)
Butakov was convinced he was indestructible – able to withstand any shock to his system, overcome any infection. And there did, if news reports from the time are to be believed, seem to be something quite odd about him.
Previous to his anti-freeze party, he had drunk dissolvent and scoffed some poisonous toadstools, then given a blood sample for doctors to analyze. The results were startling. Medics found that there was, indeed, poison in his system, but that it had not affected him in the slightest, reports say.
He’d also supposedly broken up a thermometer and eaten the mercury inside, again without any discernable effect. Again, reports say (I wasn’t - as you’ve probably gathered by now - one of the foreign journalists invited to Bukatov’s 2004 party).
Butakov, a former businessman, had “discovered” the iron nature of his constitution some years previously when he had survived clinical death after an accidental (he wasn’t into the ‘look no harm!’ business yet) and massive electric shock.
He also believed that he had acquired the ability to cure folk of a number of fatal and famous diseases, joining in the process a long-list of Russian self-proclaimed healers. Oddly enough though, no one was particularly interested in this aspect of his newly found powers. No, what they really wanted was to see was Butakov drink nasty stuff. And Butakov was happy to oblige.
Word of his hardy nature spread and soon the local newspapers started to take an interest in him. Butakov started to dream of a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the person able to drink the most poison and live (does Guinness even have such a category?).
Inspired by his thoughts of immortality, Butakov announced an extreme show of poison quaffing.
He would, starting from his birthday, down three shots of anti-freeze three times a day for the next month, as well as let himself be bitten by poisonous snakes and drink battery fluid. He would also be partaking of his old favorites, mercury and poisonous mushrooms.
“I want to draw the attention of medical specialists to the limitless possibilities of the human organism,” Butakov told journalists on the first day of the show.
After his initial “health to all mankind” toast, Butakov gave a few interviews to the assembled journalists and then…fell ill.
His mother called an ambulance at around 3am that night and he was whisked off to the local hospital. He would spend the next two weeks drifting in and out of consciousness as medics tried to cleanse his system of the anti-freeze. But their efforts were in vain. Butakov died, the possibilities of his organism having proven to be a lot less “limitless” than he had assumed.
His relatives blamed local journalists for encouraging him to go ahead with the show. And the head of the hospital’s toxicology department agreed.
“This was a tragic story,” Yulia Dobrovina told the national Noviye Izvestiya newspaper. “And journalists must take some of the blame – it was clear he had some strange inclinations.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).
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