Wounded Kharkiv mayor flown to Israel for treatment
The mayor of Kharkiv, who was left in critical condition after being shot in the back by an unknown assailant, has been flown to Israel for treatment, AFP reports citing local officials.
Yury Sydorenko, director of information at Kharkiv city council, said in a statement that Israeli doctors decided after examining his wounds that mayor Gennady Kernes, who is Jewish, could be transported.
"At half past two, he was driven to the airport," Sydorenko added.
The shooting of Kernes in Ukraine's second-largest city was the latest violent incident in the east of the country where authorities have launched what they call an "anti-terrorism" operation against pro-Russian separatists.
He appeared to be targeted by a sniper although the exact circumstances and motivations behind his shooting remained unclear.
Locals officials say he was cycling but his entourage said he was jogging. The city council said he was "hit by a bullet in the back".
It was not clear whether the attack was directly related to the simmering tensions in eastern Ukraine.
The doctor who performed emergency surgery on him, Valeriy Boyko, said the mayor's life was "in danger".
The mayor is a colourful character, who has a criminal record for theft and fraud and is not known for tolerating dissent.
He is under investigation on accusations of kidnapping and torture but has clung onto his post in Kharkiv, an industrial hub of 1.4 million people not far from the border with Russia.
A one-time supporter of ousted pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych, Kernes was known for a particularly robust crackdown on the pro-Western demonstrations that shook Ukraine from November to February, banning any protests to "avoid the spread of infectious diseases".
Pro-Western activists were regularly assaulted. Some had their cars burnt while others were sprayed with a green liquid that is difficult to remove from the skin and impossible to remove from clothes.
He also encouraged the rise of the paramilitary group Oplot, whose leader Yevgeny Zhilin told AFP in an interview in February that pro-Western protesters should have their arms broken or eyes gouged out.
After Yanukovych was forced out in late February after months of pro-Western protests, Kernes briefly fled Kharkiv and moderated his opposition to Kiev, seeking to present himself in favour of a "united Ukraine."