Ukraine crisis: Neutral mayor of Kharkiv shot while jogging

Kharkiv: Ukrainian citizens have been shocked by the attempted assassination of the mayor of Kharkiv.

Gennady Kernes was out exercising about midday in Kharkiv, a major city in eastern Ukraine, when he was shot in the back by an unidentified gunman. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition for emergency surgery.

Some Kharkiv residents had little doubt who directed the assassination attempt. Anna Mikhaylova, an organiser for a Kharkiv cultural society, said Russia was behind it. 

“The Russian Federation tried to kill Kernes because he did not go along with the plan from Moscow,” Ms Mikhaylova said.

Mr Kernes was once a supporter of previous Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and was a supporter of Russian influence in Ukraine.

When he saw the majority of people in his city did not support separatism from the new government in Kiev, he chose neutrality over continued support for Russia, Ms Mikhaylova said.

“He understood a city of students, business leaders and intelligent people did not want separatism, so then he did not want separatism.”

Ms Mikhaylova said it was therefore logical the assassination attempt was influenced by Russia, since Russia had lost the support of an important ally in eastern Ukraine.

Oleg Lazarchuk, an IT professional in Kharkiv, said he too thought Russia had the most to gain by the attempt on Mr Kernes’ life.

“I would say our mayor, he is not pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian ... he's neutral,” Mr Lazarchuk said.

“For me it looks like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin just needed a reason to invade … the death of a Russian-speaking city mayor sounds like a good reason.''

For months, Mr Putin has spoken of the need to support Russian-speaking Ukrainians from violence and discrimination in eastern Ukraine.

Both Ms Mikhaylova and Mr Lazarchuk scoffed at the claims Russian-speakers were discriminated against.

The Kiev Post reported the surgery on Mr Kernes was successful, but said he was still in a critical condition on Monday afternoon.

There have been various reports about what Mr Kernes was doing at the time of the assassination attempt, with The Kiev Post reporting he was jogging and Russian media saying he was swimming.

Earlier on Monday, a Kharkiv taxi driver by the name of Valeri had spoken with pride of Mr Kernes efforts in maintaining the peace in his city, compared to other parts of eastern Ukraine such as Slaviansk.

Valeri cited the arrests of several pro-Russian protesters in the city square the day before the assassination attempt as an example of Mr Kernes’ crackdown on behaviour that might upset the peace in Kharkiv.

The protesters had chanted “Russia, Russia” and “Kharkiv, rise up” as a Ukrainian flag in the central square was taken down and replaced with the orange and black stripes of St George’s ribbon, a symbol of Soviet victory in World War II.

Three of the men attending the protest, one of whom wore the St George’s ribbon on his arm, were quick to stop an Australian journalist from taking photographs at the event.

This story Ukraine crisis: Neutral mayor of Kharkiv shot while jogging first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.