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Ukraine: Critically wounded Kharkiv mayor moved to Israel for treatment

Early Monday morning, Gennady Kernes, 54, was taking his morning run on the Belgorod Highway in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, where he is mayor. The morning jog is a ritual of Kernes, one that he is known to undertake several times a week. Unfortunately, Monday morning, someone was waiting for the city official with a high powered Dragunov sniper rifle.

A small group of pro-Russian, pro-Communist, and other individuals gather below a statue of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin on Freedom Square on what would have been his 144th birthday on April 22, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A small group of pro-Russian, pro-Communist, and other individuals gather below a statue of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin on Freedom Square on what would have been his 144th birthday on April 22, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes (2nd R) chairs a city council meeting on April 23, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Pro-Russian activists have been occupying government buildings and demanding greater autonomy in many Eastern Ukrainian cities in recent weeks.
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Kernes was shot in the back and rushed to a local hospital where doctors undertook immediate emergency surgery to save Kerne's life. Late Monday evening, a pair of Israeli doctors arrived to inspect Kernes, who is Jewish, before recommending he be airlifted to an Israeli facility where he might be better treated. Kernes was moved around 3:20 on Tuesday morning.

At the time of the shooting, Valery Boiko, director of surgery at the Kharkov Institute for General and Emergency Surgery, said Kernes' condition was "critical, close to very severe." Boiko went on to state that he had the utmost respect for Kernes' new doctors: "Israeli doctors will continue to cure the mayor as they have a quite vast experience of treating bullet wounds."

Fortunately, Kernes' Israeli physicians confirmed Tuesday that Kernes' treatment in Ukraine had been successful and that he would require no further surgeries. Unfortunately the mayor of Kharkiv is still in danger. "Specialists are still keeping Gennady Kernes in medication sleep and artificial lung ventilation," said one source.

Kernes had experienced a resurgence in his faith in recent years, becoming more active in Judaism. The chief rabbi in Kharkov, Moshe Moskowitz, had this to say: "He's very proud of his Jewish heritage: He received a Jewish name [Moshe ben Chana] six years ago when he had a bris (circumcision) through us … We are all davening (praying) for him.”

Authorities are still unsure as to who fired the shot, though they believe that Kernes' belief in Judaism had little to do with the motive. In recent months, Kernes has been vehemently opposed to the pro-Russian movement currently gripping Ukraine. While in the past, Kernes was a vocal supporter of the previous pro-Russian administration led by Viktor Yanukovych, Kernes' allegiances seemed to shift when the new government took over in Kiev.

Since the transition, Kernes has worked to stem the violence in eastern Ukraine and has proudly proclaimed his hope for a united country. "Russian is my first language. But I support an undivided Ukraine. I am a mayor of a border city but we will never yield to intimidation. We will never make any decision that could undermine Ukrainian statehood."

One has to wonder what impacted Kernes change of heart. Was he simply switching to what he perceived as the winning side, or did he genuinely find himself no longer sympathizing with his Russian counterparts? Whatever Kernes' motivation, his behavior in Ukraine in the last few weeks has been nothing short of heroic. Even in the face of deteriorating security and amid a tidal wave of threats, he stuck to his word, he refused to be intimidated. As Kharkiv reels from the loss of one of their most outspoken leaders, you have to hope that spirit remains in the east of Ukraine.