The Jewish mayor of Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv in the restive eastern section of the country was shot in a suspected assassination attempt that left him in critical condition.
“Today at around noon an attempt was made on the life of Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes,” officials from the city – Ukraine’s second largest – said in a statement issued Monday.
According to the statement, Kernes “sustained a gunshot wound to the back. Now he is in the hospital emergency room, on the operating table. Doctors are fighting for his life.”
“The doctors are fighting to save his life,” the Interfax Ukraina news agency quoted a hospital spokeswoman, Tatiana Gruzinskaya, as saying.
The statement did not contain any information on who perpetrated the attack, which, according to the news site Vesti.ua, occurred while Kernes was out on his routine morning jog.
The CEO of the National Television Company of Ukraine, Zurab Alsasnia, wrote on Facebook that evidence suggested Kernes had been ambushed during his jog by a sniper who studied Kernes’ habits.
Kernes, who worked his way up the ranks of local government, was accused by Ukraine’s new pro-Western leaders two months ago of promoting separatism by demanding independence when pro-Russian protesters took control of administrative buildings.
Ukrainian forces evicted them this month, making Kharkiv 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.
On Sunday, hundreds of soccer fans paraded the streets of Kharkiv shouting “for Ukraine”.
The official website of the Kharkiv Jewish community describes Kernes as “Jewish by ethnicity.” Eleonora Groysman, editor of the Jewish Ukrainian news site evreiskiy.kiev.ua also told JTA that Kernes is Jewish.
According to the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the 2009 election campaign in which Kernes became mayor was mired with anti-Semitic hate speech targeting him and other Jewish candidates.
Ukraine has seen deadly clashes between political opponents since the eruption in November of a revolution which started with protests over former president Viktor Yanukovych’s perceived pro-Russian policies. He was ousted from power in February and replaced with an interim government that has scheduled elections for next month.
Several anti-Semitic attacks, including two stabbings and two attempts to torch synagogues, have occurred since November in Ukraine, a country with relatively low levels of anti-Semitic violence.