Gennady Kernes, the Jewish mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine, was shot and seriously wounded on Monday, Interfax- Ukraine has reported.
Kernes was a strong supporter of Ukraine’s deposed president, Viktor Yanukovich, although the motives for the shooting remain unclear. The Interior Ministry announced that local police were investigating.
Kernes was shot in the back, his press secretary told Interfax.
“He is currently in intensive care. Doctors are fighting for his life. Surgery is under way,” she said.
Kharkiv is one of the most pro-Russian cities in the country’s Russian-speaking east and was one of the only locations in which government forces had been able to dislodge separatists occupying government buildings. It has been the site of ongoing clashes between supporters of the new administration in Kiev and those in favor of federalization with Russia. Fourteen people were hurt in clashes between the two factions on Sunday.
Kernes initially exhibited separatist leanings but later recanted, coming out in support of the new administration in Kiev and expressing opposition to secessionist, pro-Russian militias. After Yanukovich’s ouster in February he temporarily fled the country. He has been accused by critics of sending gangs to attack anti-government protesters in Kiev.
US President Barack Obama announced new sanctions against some Russian individuals on Monday to stop President Vladimir Putin from fomenting the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, but said he was holding broader measures against Russia’s economy “in reserve.”
Ukrainian Jewish Committee head Eduard Dolinsky told The Jerusalem Post: “It’s, of course terrible. We don’t know what really happened and who is behind this crime.
Although I don’t think there is a Jewish connection in this crime.”
So far there have been no indications that the shooting was connected to a series of anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in the country since the beginning of the protests last year.
Local Jews in Kharkiv were praying for Kernes, the website of the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic movement reported.
“All we can do right now is pray. He’s a good friend of the Jewish community and has helped us in many ways,” Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, Chabad’s emissary in the city, told the website.
Reuters contributed to this report.