In a sign of the deepening destabilization of eastern Ukraine, the popular mayor of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, was shot in the back on Monday, authorities said.
Mayor Gennady Kernes was in critical condition after undergoing surgery at a local clinic, said Dr. Valery Boiko, who performed the two-hour operation.
He was shot while jogging on the outskirts of Kharkiv at about noon, according to a statement posted on the city’s website. A police report said he was cycling at the time.
“The doctors qualified the injury as heavy, given the damage to internal organs,” the city statement said.
The Interior Ministry said Kernes was the target of an assassination attempt.
Police recovered a bullet cartridge at the scene of the shooting, according to a close friend of the mayor, former regional Gov. Mikhail Dobkin.
Kernes and Dobkin were staunch supporters of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February following deadly clashes between police and protesters angered by a decision to abandon an economic association pact with the European Union.
Kernes, the longtime administrator of Kharkiv, was charged with making separatist statements and put under house arrest.
In April, when pro-Russia protests spread across eastern Ukraine, Kernes, who was still officially under house arrest, persuaded the police to storm the regional administration building in Kharkiv and push out the separatists who were occupying it.
The criminal case against him was then dropped and he returned to his mayoral duties.
Los Angeles Times