Quietly recuperating at a hospital in Haifa, Israel, Mayor Gennady Kernes of Kharkov, Ukraine, is on the phone daily with his administration back home.
When Kernes was shot in the back while jogging last month, the immediate predictions sounded grim. The assailant’s bullet had pierced his back, and caused severe and complex internal damage. And while his doctors are saying that he still has a long road of healing ahead of him, his prognosis is much better than it was at the outset.
“I visited him in Israel on Monday, and we spent two hours together,” said Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, Kharkov’s chief rabbi and Chabad emissary. “We put on tefillin and prayed, he said some tehillim [psalms], and he thanked everyone who has been praying for his recovery. He realizes that he survived because of a miracle.”
Kernes, who is Jewish and an active member of the Kharkov Jewish community, has been the mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city since 2010. Following the attempt on his life, the next day he was airlifted to Israel for medical treatment. While the interim Ukrainian government has announced intensified efforts to investigate the shooting, no arrests have been made thus far.
Initially allied with former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, Kernes opposed the pro-European Maidan movement. Following Yanukovych’s ouster, he began to speak in support of a united Ukraine, free of outside interference. It is Kernes who has been credited by many for keeping Kharkov relatively calm while many other cities in eastern Ukraine have devolved into chaos.
It was his idea, for example, to call off the city’s annual Soviet Victory Day parade on May 9, worried that it might lead to unwanted instability.
“He’s happy that he’s in Israel right now, but he really wants to be back in Kharkov,” said Moskovitz. “The doctors are not saying when that will be able to happen, but they are very positive he will get better.”