The Jewish mayor of eastern Ukraine’s biggest city was flown to a hospital in northern Israel after being shot in the back, and said to be in stable condition on Tuesday.
Gennady Kernes, one of Ukraine’s most prominent Jewish politicians, was shot on Monday in Kharkiv, in one of the highest-profile assassination attempts in the two-month-old standoff between Kiev and Moscow.
He underwent surgery in Ukraine on Monday. Officials had said his injuries were life-threatening.
“He is stable. That is all we can say right now,” a staff member at the hospital in Haifa, told Reuters.
After protesters toppled pro-Moscow Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February, Kernes, 54, supported calls for Kharkiv – one of the most pro-Russian cities in the country’s Russian- speaking east – to become independent from Kiev’s new, pro-European leaders.
But he changed his views after being accused of fomenting separatism and when Ukrainian police forced pro-Russian protesters out of administrative buildings in the city, making it the only major eastern city to have taken back control from the armed protesters – who have demanded a referendum on independence for most of eastern Ukraine.
A Ukrainian local government official said Kernes was either riding his bicycle or jogging when he was shot by someone, probably hidden in the nearby woods. His bodyguards were following in a car but were not close enough to intervene.
The Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv said it was not involved in Kernes’s hospitalization in Israel, and that it may have been privately arranged and funded.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on Monday that they were investigating whether the shooting was in retaliation for the detention of 13 pro-Russian separatists on Sunday – on charges of possession of petrol bombs, explosives and nails.
Kernes, according to his official biography, started out by working for state enterprises in the city before embarking on a series of business ventures – including gas trading.
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.