Officials Report Fake Vodka Killing Scores in Russia

Fake vodka and toxic alcohol substitutes have killed scores of people in numerous Russian regions over the past few months, officials and media reports said Thursday.

In the western Belgorod region alone, 44 of the 912 affected have died since July 31, said Olga Semyonova, a spokeswoman for the Belgorod regional prosecutors' office.

And in the northwestern city of Pskov, near the border with Estonia, at least 12 people died of toxic hepatitis and 134 remained hospitalized with the disease after drinking bad alcohol since mid-September, local health officials said.

"All those people were diagnosed for toxic hepatitis caused by some alcohol liquid," Vladimir Ryabenchenko, head of the Pskov Health Committee's emergency department, told The Associated Press.

More than 550 people in the Siberian region of Irkutsk have appealed for medical assistance and of those, 19 have died of toxic hepatitis, the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Andrei Kuptsevich, the region's deputy health chief, as saying. The regional government is considering whether to introduce a state of emergency because of the poisonings, ITAR-Tass said.

Six people were killed in the Ural Mountains region of Perm, and seven were reported poisoned to death in the Far East Khabarovsk region, ITAR-Tass said.

Officials say thousands of people die in Russia every year from drinking poisonous homemade or illegally produced alcohol or fake alcohol.

In the Baltic country of Latvia, which borders the Pskov region, five people appear to have died from drinking bad alcohol, said Zaiga Barvida, a Health Ministry spokeswoman. She said the exact cause of the deaths would be determined only after autopsies.

One death from drinking illegal alcohol has been confirmed, and 52 people have been hospitalized.

In Estonia, the Social Affairs Ministry reported last week that five people had died from apparently drinking toxic alcohol.