Jewish mayor of Kharkiv regains consciousness after shooting

Hennady Kernes, who was gunned down from behind while jogging, wakes up and begins recovery at Haifa hospital

Kharkiv mayor Hennady Kernes speaking in February.  (photo credit: AP/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Kharkiv mayor Hennady Kernes speaking in February. (photo credit: AP/Sergei Chuzavkov)

The Jewish mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city, regained consciousness in a Haifa hospital on Monday, a week after being shot in the back amid rising tensions in eastern Ukraine.

Kharkiv’s chief Chabad emisssary, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, confirmed Monday that Hennady Kernes had woken up and was recovering at the Rambam Medical Center.

“He woke up, and he’s speaking a little,” Moskovitz said, according to an article posted on the Chabad website. “God willing, I hope to visit him soon.”

A picture posted to Kernes’s Instagram account on Sunday showed him in a hospital bed making a peace sign with his fingers and the caption “Need to live strong. I will be back. Thank you very much. ”

Kernes, who is Jewish, was hit in the back in an attack on April 28 while he was out jogging, his office said. He underwent immediate surgery, with local doctors “fighting for his life,” according to a Kharkiv municipal spokesman.

Hours later, in the early hours of Tuesday, he was airlifted to Israel for medical treatment.

Kharkiv, which has a large Jewish population, lies some 40 kilometers from the Russian border, has been caught in growing unrest in the region as pro-Russian separatists battle Ukrainian forces in increasingly pitched battles.

Moskovitz said that a Chabad emissary had been visiting Kernes regularly at the hospital and monitoring his progress towards recovery.

“Things are still delicate, but he’s getting better, and we hope he gets out of it,” he said, adding that he hoped a “stable peace” returns to the Ukraine.

kernes was initially taken to the private Elisha hospital in Haifa, where doctors said his surgery was successful.

He was later moved to the city’s Rambam Medical Center, where a second operation was performed.

Prior to his evacuation to Israel, Israeli doctors arrived in Kharkiv and “assessed the work of our doctors but strongly recommended moving him for treatment to Israel,” city spokesman Yuriy Sydorenko told the Interfax news agency.

Ukrainian officials have not commented on the circumstances of the shooting and it was not clear who was behind it.

Kernes was a staunch opponent of the pro-West Maidan movement that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in February and was widely viewed as the organizer of activists sent to Kiev from eastern Ukraine to harass those demonstrators.

But he has since softened his stance toward the new Kiev government and insisted that he does not support the pro-Russia insurgents or any annexation of Ukrainian territory.

The official website of the Kharkiv Jewish community describes Kernes as “Jewish by ethnicity.” Eleonora Groysman, editor of the Jewish Ukrainian news site, 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 in anti-Semitic hate speech targeting him and other Jewish candidates.

Ukraine’s acting government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating unrest in eastern Ukraine, which they fear Moscow could use as a pretext for an invasion. In March, Russia annexed Crimea weeks after seizing control of the Black Sea peninsula.

JTA and AP contributed to this report.

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