The mayor of eastern Ukraine’s biggest city was in “stable” condition on Tuesday in a hospital in Israel, where he was flown after being wounded in the highest-profile assassination attempt in the two-month-old standoff between Kiev and Moscow.
Gennady Kernes, one of Ukraine’s most prominent Jewish politicians, was shot in the back on Monday in Kharkiv, and 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 private hospital Elisha in Haifa told Reuters.
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.”
After protesters toppled pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February, Kernes, 54, supported calls for Kharkiv 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.
A Ukrainian local government official said Kernes was either riding his bicycle or jogging when he was shot by someone probably hidden in 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.
Kharkiv, also known as Kharkov, has a Jewish population of about 30,000, out of a total population of over 1,400,000. Prior to World War II the community had the second-largest shul in Europe. However, the community suffered greatly during the German occupation between 1941 and 1943, with over 15,000 Jews murdered and buried in a mass grave outside the city between December 1941 and January 1942 alone.
As the tense situation in Ukraine continues, an increasing number of Jewish Ukrainians are turning to communal organizations for support, both financial and emotional.
Reports of violence and deaths in the Donetsk region, and the fire bomb attack on the synagogue in Nikolaev (near Odessa), have caused everyone anxiety, particularly the older generation.
The fire bomb attack on the Nikolaev synagogue was the most serious recent event affecting the Ukrainian Jewish community directly. On Saturday morning at 2 a.m., Molotov cocktails were thrown into the shul, but fortunately the attack was witnessed by someone and that person called the fire service as the attack was taking place. The fire service responded immediately and was able to extinguish the flames before the fire took hold.