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The life and lies of Yevgeny Likunov Parents say a Russian pediatrician gave kids fake vaccines and tests for years
On February 21, several Moscow doctors publicly announced a set of frightening accusations made against one of their colleagues, the pediatrician Yevgeny Likunov. The parents of Likunov’s former patients accused him of fraud: they said the pediatrician forged their children’s test results and gave them fake vaccines either by merely pretending to perform injections or by using an insulin syringe to inject saline solution instead of an actual vaccine. Meduza spoke with Likunov’s colleagues and patients and discovered that he has been deceiving patients for several years, all while hosting talk shows about health and appearing in the news media as a medical expert.
“His worldview would be unacceptable even in the criminal underworld”
In 2009, Moscow resident Maxim Galperin contacted a private health clinic for help. His 12-year-old son had showed symptoms of a blood-related illness, and the family urgently needed to rule out the possibility that he had leukemia. The doctor who was on call to receive patients when Galperin arrived was Yevgeny Likunov. He offered the young father a chance to save some money and pay him 10,000 rubles personally (about $300 at the time). Likunov scheduled a second test for the following week. It became clear to Galperin very quickly that the results of his son’s test had been falsified, and he was soon able to discover that Likunov had never brought his son’s blood to a laboratory. Instead, he had typed out a set of test results himself and placed an official seal on them. Likunov was fired shortly after the incident.
“As far as I know, he had no problem finding work in another clinic. After all, he isn’t unfit to work in the strict sense of the word: he graduated with honors from medical school and did research at the best institute in his field. He just turned out to be a scoundrel whose worldview would be unacceptable even in the criminal underworld,” Galperin told the newspaper Kommersant in 2010.
After that incident, Yevgeny Likunov not only continued to practice; he began appearing frequently in public forums as a medical expert. In 2017, he began running his own talk show, entitled “Family Medicine with Doctor Likunov,” on the radio station MediaMetrics. That same year, he gave a quote to the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty about the causes of sore throats and told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda about the “children’s drugs” that have “gotten Russian schoolchildren addicted.”
On February 21, 2019, Likunov was quoted in the online outlet Life in an article about whether parents should arrange for their children to receive a flu shot. “A vaccine can help someone in their fight against an illness, but it can also do irreparable damage to one’s health,” he warned. “Doctors should study a patient’s overall condition and learn about the details of their health before giving that patient a vaccine.”
That same day, almost ten years after Maxim Galperin made his complaint, another Moscow pediatrician named Fyodor Katasonov, who works in the city’s GMS Clinic, went public with new accusations against Yevgeny Likunov.
Fake injections from insulin syringes
Katasonov posted on Facebook about Likunov’s “extreme dishonesty and probable fraud.” Katasonov wrote that one of his colleagues had recently approached him to ask how one could verify whether a child was really given their assigned vaccinations. She had become concerned because every time Yevgeny Likunov administered a vaccine in front of her, he “distracted her with a request to bring something or give something to him and then gave the injection using an insulin syringe.”
Katasonov explained that even if the pediatrician had given the patients in question “real vaccines,” he must have committed “a huge number of violations.” As is common in Russia, Likunov had conducted his checkups in patients’ homes, but it is illegal in Russia to vaccinate patients outside medical facilities. Vaccines must also be transported in a special container and prepared immediately before injection, and they cannot be injected using an insulin syringe. In addition to those violations, Katasonov explained, Likunov charged extremely low prices for vaccines and claimed to use medications that are impossible to acquire in Russia.
Katasonov told Meduza that after he published his post, numerous former patients and colleagues of Likunov’s made contact with him. Generally speaking, they accused the pediatrician of ceasing work on the projects contracted to him after being paid, failing to bring samples to the proper laboratories and falsifying test results instead, administering vaccines in patients’ homes while committing multiple violations, and working under another doctor’s license. The doctors who worked with Likunov complained that he did not pay them for their work even though he was supposed to distribute funds to them after receiving money from patients’ parents.
Katasonov said he posted publicly about Likunov “to warn [parents] and protect children from this threat.” The next day, the doctor added in another post that he would never have wanted Likunov to be imprisoned for his actions: “I believe there is hardly anyone who deserves the experience of being in a Russian prison. But if all this is confirmed, punishing [Likunov] financially and shutting him out of the profession for good will be necessary.”
“I never saw him take a vaccine out of his bag”
Dina, one of Yevgeny Likunov’s clients (she asked that her last name remain unpublished), told Meduza that she signed a two-year contract with the pediatrician and “figured out in the second year that he’s a crook.” She began feeling suspicious when the pediatrician showed Dina the results of blood work he had conducted on her child. “I was on alert because there are usually a lot of indicators in there, around 30, and the piece of paper our doctor brought to us had about six,” Dina said. “The pediatrician said, ‘Well, you have a healthy child. What do you need so many [indicators] for?’”
According to Dina, the results form she received had a seal from a laboratory that supposedly completed the analysis described. Dina called the laboratory and asked whether they knew of Likunov and whether they worked with him. “I could tell by the lab workers’ reaction that I wasn’t the first one to call about this,” she said. “They told me that they had never worked with Likunov and that they didn’t even have a form like that for their analyses at all.”
Another former client, who asked to remain anonymous, told Meduza that she set up a year-long contract with Likunov for 50,000 rubles (likely more than $700) in 2018, immediately after the birth of her child. The client’s acquaintances had recommended Likunov to her.
Some time later, the woman noticed that Likunov had stopped showing her the results of the tests he conducted. “When I asked him more assertively to show them to me, he brought in these black and white forms that looked like they came from a home printer,” she said. “But we had a lot of acquaintances in common, so I tried to fight off my suspicions.”
The woman then began to notice that every time the pediatrician gave her child a vaccination, he found an excuse to ask her to leave the room. She said she had never seen Likunov remove any substance from his bag before administering a vaccine and that the lines in her child’s health records where the doctor should have written the barcode number for each vaccination were left blank.
The family care doctor from the Buchatsky Clinic
Yevgeny Likunov is 36 years old, and he was born in the southwest Russian city of Saransk. In 2005, he graduated from N.P. Ogarev Mordova State University, and the same year, he began his residency at the Dmitry Rogachev Center in Moscow. Employees at the center told Meduza that Likunov had studied there but that conflicts had arisen between him and administrators because he presented himself as a full-fledged employee rather than a resident and gave dishonest advice to patients for money.
Likunov’s page on the Russian service selection site Zoon.ru indicates that he has advanced certifications in reanimation and anesthesiology, emergency pediatrics, urgent care, medical genetics, and other specializations. Likunov has not published scans, serial numbers, or anything else that could establish the authenticity of those certifications. In addition, according to Likunov’s Zoon page, the pediatrician worked from 2007 to 2014 “in a private children’s clinic and a private international center,” neither of which are named. From 2014 through 2017, he claims to have worked in a private practice that is also unspecified.
The page also claims that, from 2007 through 2010, Likunov was a graduate student at the Rogachev Center and wrote a dissertation entitled “A Cancer Registry of Adolescents in Moscow Oblast.” No such dissertation can be found in the Russian State Library’s dissertation database. Meduza’s sources in the Dmitry Rogachev Center said Likunov did in fact enroll in the center’s graduate program but did not complete it or defend a dissertation. It is likely that Likunov calls himself a “graduate student” and not a “candidate of medical sciences,” the status accorded in Russia to graduates of advanced programs in medicine, for this reason. The Dissercat database, Russia’s most comprehensive catalog of dissertations, also contains no mention of Likunov’s work.
Since 2016, Likunov has worked as a family care doctor in a clinic run by one Dr. Buchatsky. Yevgeny Buchatsky received his degree in Transnistria, an unrecognized state considered by the United Nations to be part of Moldova. In the 1990s, Buchatsky graduated from the medical department of Shevchenko Transnistrian State University, and he began working in the republic’s medical dispensary. In 2011, he moved to Moscow and worked at the First City Hospital there before opening his own medical center with a focus on addiction treatment.
In 2015, Buchatsky became the head of the Novaya Zhizn (New Life) clinic, which specializes in combating alcohol and drug addiction. The clinic’s advertising materials indicate that it was founded by doctors from the Botkinskaya Hospital, which is located near the clinic itself. However, Russia’s United State Registry of Legal Personae (YeGrYuL) lists Yelena Sementsova and Katerina Chernikova as the founders of the clinic. Both have built careers selling electronics and electronic cables. A page on the clinic’s website entitled “Our Doctors” does not include Yevgeny Likunov’s name.
In 2018, Russia’s health care regulation agency, Rosdravnadzor, determined in the course of a routine inspection that doctors at the Novaya Zhizn clinic had conducted medical operations that are not covered by their licenses and are life-threatening to patients. The clinic was fined. Shortly afterward, its owners created a new company with the exact same name.
The independent contractor
Darya, another client of Yevgeny Likunov’s who asked to be called by her first name only, told Meduza that she also asked to sign a contract with the pediatrician in 2017 on the recommendation of a friend. Likunov corresponded with her and promised to give her child a free checkup before discussing the conditions for a contract on the spot. According to Darya, the doctor spent that first meeting telling her about his incredible patients and colleagues but refused to answer questions about which clinic he worked with and which doctors he counted as collaborators.
“He just tossed out a bunch of trumped-up phrases: ‘I’ll bring you the best hematologist in Russia, the best neurologist.’ When I said that I wanted to see reviews of these doctors first and asked for their names, he immediately got angry and said, ‘Why do you need to know that? Don’t you trust me?’”
Darya said Likunov then started to pelt her with “angry complaints” and tried to convince her that refusing his services would mean that she did not love her child and “was trying to use [her child] to cut her budget.” Then, he began demanding 5,000 rubles for his “free” checkup.
Meduza has interviews with two more of Likunov’s clients in its possession. Both accuse him of falsifying test results and providing low-quality services.
Likunov signed agreements with his patients as an independent contractor registered in Saransk. According to the contracts (of which Meduza has a copy), Likunov was supposed to provide services “enumerated in amendment 1 of the present agreement.” However, among the former clients Meduza contacted, not one had an amendment in their possession. Instead, a paper marked “Observation Schedule for Children of 0-1 Years At Home and in the Clinic” is attached to the contract, but that document is not mentioned in the text of the contract itself.
The contract’s other clauses include one that says the contractor in question “has the right, if indications of a need for medical treatment arise, to determine on his own the degree of research and intervention necessary to provide a diagnosis and to enable the provision of medical aid.” The contract includes no indication that Likunov himself intends to provide medical treatment.
In Russia’s YeGrYuL registry, Likunov’s work as an independent contractor is described as “work in data control centers for telephone calls.” Other areas of business listed under Likunov’s name in the registry include “the provision of various assistive services for businesses” and “general medical practice.” However, the business verification service SPARK-Interfax does not list any of Likunov’s medical licenses. Data on his licensure is also missing from the databases of Moscow’s municipal health care department and the Health Care Ministry of the Russian Republic of Mordavia, where Likunov is registered as a contractor. In the contracts he gave patients, Likunov gave a license number that belonged to an unrelated medical institution—the Novaya Zhizn clinic led by Yevgeny Buchatsky. Likunov has written on Facebook that he works at the clinic in a “desk job” as the head of a medical records branch.
The doctor from Facebook
In 2017, Amina Nazaralieva, a psychotherapist and the co-founder of a clinic called Mental Health Center in Moscow, posted in a Facebook group called “Pediatria,” or “Pediatrics,” asking for recommendations for a pediatrician. She was pregnant at the time. She said Likunov immediately contacted her and offered his services. “I went over to his page, and we had mutual friends who were respectable doctors with strong reputations. His resume said he had worked in good clinics and had an advanced degree. I thought it would probably be worthwhile to work with him,” Nazaralieva told Meduza.
When Nazarlieva reached out to those among her colleagues who were Facebook friends with Likunov and asked whether he was a good doctor, “every one of them said they did not know him personally and added him only because he was in their field.” Likunov sent Nazarlieva a contract and said he would “give her a discount as a colleague and charge only 50,000 rubles for a one-year contract.” Nazarlieva was bewildered when she realized that none of her colleagues actually knew Likunov and that a large portion of the vaccinations he offered were unavailable in Russia (he said he bought them independently from distributors). Nazarlieva declined to hire Likunov.
Mikhail Genin, who directs a project called “Find Your Own Doctor!” in Russia, told Meduza that Yevgeny Likunov was one of the first doctors to join his group. The idea behind the project was to gather a large medical community on Facebook (the group currently has 65,000 followers) where doctors could recommend verified medical specialists to one another. Patients then began joining the group and asking for recommendations themselves.
The project was released in 2017. Mikhail Genin said he immediately saw reason for suspicion in the fact that none of his acquaintances knew Yevgeny Likunov. In addition, the pediatrician would never respond in public comments to requests for recommendations; instead, he would immediately ask group members to send him a private message. Genin later noticed that Likunov had begun following members of the group and adding them as friends.
Some time later, Genin began receiving complaints: group members wrote to him that Dr. Likunov forced his services on them, took their money, and then disappeared and blocked their phone numbers. Genin said he responded by “quietly deleting Likunov from the group.”
Soon afterward, Yevgeny Likunov created a similar group on Facebook called “Get Answers from the Doctor.” According to Mikhail Genin, the first five thousand members of that group were the doctors Likunov had added as friends as a member of “Find Your Own Doctor!”
Yevgeny Likunov did not respond to Facebook messages from Meduza. His telephone numbers have been deleted from his page. On February 21, Likunov told the online news and culture outlet Snob that he was aware of the accusations against him but did not agree with them: “Disagreements about financial matters may really have a place here,” he said. “Accusations that I used saline solution instead of vaccines and all the other accusations — I don’t accept those. I have always acted professionally.”
Translation by Hilah Kohen
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