Shot Ukrainian Jewish mayor airlifted to Israel after surgery

Hennady Kernes, gunned down from behind while jogging on Monday, flown overnight to Haifa hospital in critical condition

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, in critical condition after being shot on Monday, was flown to Israel early Tuesday morning to receive medical treatment.

Kharkiv mayor Hennady Kernes was hit in the back in an attack while he was out jogging, his office said. Kernes underwent immediate surgery, with local doctors “fighting for his life,” according to a Kharkiv municipal spokesman.

A statement from Elisha hospital in Haifa, where Kernes was taken during the night, said the surgery was successful.

“He is under the care of the best doctors and it seems he will not need further surgical intervention,” the statement read.

He will undergo a further evaluation after a few days, the hospital said, but no further statements would be issued.

Israeli doctors arrived in Kharkiv on Monday 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 on Tuesday morning.

The doctors decided that Kernes, though still in critical condition, was transportable, and an Israeli flight took off from the Kharkiv airport shortly after 3 a.m., Sydorenko added.

He was taken to “Haifa’s central hospital,” the mayor’s spokesperson Tetiana Hruzynska wrote on Facebook.

He is currently is serious but stable condition.

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.

Kharkiv is home to a large Jewish community. 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.

Kharkiv’s rabbi, Moshe Moskowitz, told Israel National News that “we are talking about a precious Jewish life, with a loving and warm relationship with the community, and we are shocked by the attempted assassination. We are praying for his safety — Moshe ben Hana.”

Kharkiv is in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized government buildings, set up roadblocks or staged protests to demand greater autonomy or outright annexation by Russia.

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

JTA contributed to this report.

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