Gennady Kernes, the Jewish mayor of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov—after the capital, Kiev, Ukraine’s second-largest city—has been shot in the back. Initial reports suggested that the mayor, who was shot and wounded by unidentified snipers around noon local time Monday, was either riding his bike or swimming at the time of the attack, but Rabbi Moishe Moskovitz, a Chabad emissary to Kharkov, told Tablet the mayor was out jogging.
Moskovitz has spoken to the family and said Kernes is out of surgery but remains in critical condition. “He’s a very popular man, and we hope the people who did this will get caught and punished,” said Moskovitz, who has been the Chabad emissary in Kharkov since 1990.
Moskovitz says that today’s events are shocking; Kharkov has been much quieter than Donetsk, further south. But while Kernes was originally a strong opponent of the Maidan movement before the February ouster of the Russian-allied President Viktor Yanukovych, he was softening toward the new movement in Kiev and opposed the annexation of Ukrainian territory, according to the Times of Israel. “He was pro-Yanukovych at the beginning, but now he is very much in the center,” Moskovitz explained. “He wanted basically that the government should be more pro-Russian, but Ukraine should stay one country.”
But Kernes has been under investigation in connection with the attempted abduction of two Maidan activists in January. Last month, Kernes wrote an open letter to the head of the Interior Ministry of Ukraine in Kharkov, reporting threats that he attributed to Arsen Avakov, the former governor of the Kharkov region, now the country’s acting minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
He has been outspoken about his suspicions of the new Kiev government, including in a recent interview with the New York Times:
“People ask if I like the new authorities, but I prefer a different question: Does the new government actually like our people, with their demands, their desires, their dreams?” Mr. Kernes said in an interview last month in a restaurant at the downtown hotel he owns.
“Here we have an acting president,” Mr. Kernes said, referring to the interim president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov. “In Russia, they have a president. There they don’t have political chaos, and here what do we see? Political chaos.”
He is known for being close to Mikhail Dobkin, the Jewish governor of the Kharkov region, who is a presidential candidate in the planned upcoming national elections but has been attacked by the Turchynov government for “threatening the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. (The pair were once captured in a video, posted to YouTube, in which Kernes—dressed in a leather jacket accessorized with a purple pashmina—gave Dobkin advice on giving a speech on television.)
“They are considered mafia,” Aleks Yakubssohn, an independent journalist and blogger from Kharkov, said of the two men. “They are trying to see who is stronger,” he added. “If Russia doesn’t invade, they have to be on the side of Ukraine.”
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.