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Gunmen target Ukrainian president’s aide in ‘assassination attempt’

Zelensky vows ‘strong response’ after attack on longtime associate Sergiy Shefir, who didn’t suffer serious injury; officials say attack was in response to crackdown on oligarchs

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky (center), his wife Olena and members of his crew react during a presidential election debate with Ukraine's then-president at The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, with the chief aide to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergei Shefir, pictured on the right. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky (center), his wife Olena and members of his crew react during a presidential election debate with Ukraine's then-president at The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, with the chief aide to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergei Shefir, pictured on the right. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine — Gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on a car carrying a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, in what officials said was an attempted assassination in response to his crackdown on oligarchs.

Sergiy Shefir, a 57-year-old former scriptwriter and longtime associate of comedian-turned-politician Zelensky, was reported to have escaped without serious injury.

An adviser to the interior minister, Anton Herashchenko, said on Facebook that the attack took place Wednesday morning near the village of Lisnyky south of the capital Kyiv.

He said that Shefir’s driver was “seriously injured,” and that police had launched a special operation in the area.

“Unidentified individuals fired about 10 shots from a 7.62 caliber automatic weapon,” Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Facebook.

She said that the authorities had opened an attempted murder investigation.

Photos published by officials showed a black Audi with bullet holes along its hood and on the driver-side door.

Official reports did not say whether Shefir was injured, but a lawmaker representing Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party said that he was fine.

“I briefly spoke to him, everything is fine, he is alive and well,” Davyd Arakhamia was quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

He said that police had taken Shefir to a “safe” location.

‘Shadowy oligarchs’

Another aide in Zelensky’s office said that the attack was an attempt to “demonstrably kill a key member of the team.”

Mykhailo Podolyak told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that the attack was in response to “politics directed at limiting the traditional influence of shadowy oligarchs.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, gestures as he talks to Britian’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a meeting, in Downing Street, London, on October 8, 2020. (Aaron Chown/Pool Photo via AP)

Zelensky, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, promised a “strong response.”

“Saying ‘hello’ to me by shooting out of the forest at my friend’s car is weak,” Zelensky said in a video statement from New York. “The response will be strong.”

The Ukrainian president said that it is was not yet known who was behind the attack.

Ukrainian officials earlier described the attack as a response to Zelensky’s policies reigning in the influence of oligarchs.

“This does not affect the course that I have chosen with my team — towards changes, towards de-shadowing our economy, towards fighting criminals and large, influential financial groups,” said Zelensky, who was elected in 2019.

Sergiy Nykyforov said that no “insidious actions” would affect the president’s plans to “de-shadow and de-oligarch” Ukraine.

Shefir was born in the industrial central city of Kryvyi Rig and studied to be a metallurgist, but as a student began doing comedy for the popular KVN show with his brother, Boris.

In 2003, he co-founded a production company called “Kvartal 95” with Boris and Zelensky, who was elected president in 2019.

Shefir produced and wrote the “Servant of the People,” a show in which Zelensky portrayed a schoolteacher who becomes president and which eventually launched his political career.

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