The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city is fighting for his life after being shot early Monday while jogging, according to local reports.
Gennady Kernes, mayor of the eastern city of Kharkiv, was shot in the back by unidentified gunmen on Monday morning, his office said. He was reported to have been out jogging at the time, the Kiev Post reported. The shooter appeared to be aiming at Kernes' heart, his friend and presidential candidate, Mykhailo Dobkin, told the paper.
"I can say this shot was aimed to kill, to the heart," he said. "And I can say that there is no death only due to a happy coincidence.
"If you want my opinion, it was not a shot at Kernes it was a shot at Kharkiv,” Dobkin added.
A surgeon who operated on Kernes said he suffered a “"serious thoracoabdominal injury” but came through surgery and remains in critical condition.
Dobkin also said that the police found an ammunition case at the site of the shooting. Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered an investigation of the shooting Monday afternoon, the Verkhovna Rada's press service reported. Officials have not commented on who could be behind the attack.
Kernes was a supporter of ousted President Victor Yanukovych before his ouster, and now professes loyalty to the Kiev government. At a meeting of eastern Ukrainian leaders and acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk earlier this month, Kernes said he does not support the pro-Russia insurgents and backed a united Ukraine.
Kharkiv, which is about 25 miles from the Russian border, has so far managed to keep pro-Russian militants from seizing control. But on Sunday, there were clashes between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russia supporters.
Meanwhile, violence in other parts of Ukraine continued Monday. Masked militants armed with automatic weapons seized another city hall building and a police station in Kostyantynivka, about 100 miles from the Russian border. The city is 22 miles south of Slovyansk, a major city in eastern Ukraine that has been under rebel control for more than three weeks.
Monday’s shooting came before new sanctions were announced by President Obama against high-tech exports to Russia’s defense industry.
The White House says it’s imposing sanctions on seven Russian government officials and 17 companies with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.
The U.S. had threatened more sanctions as Russia continues to fail to live up to commitments it agreed to under an international accord aimed at deescalating the crisis in Ukraine. The White House says it’s prepared to "impose still greater costs" if Russia continues its provocations in Ukraine.
"The goal here is not to go after Mr. Putin personally," Obama said during a news conference in the Philippines. "The goal is to change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he's engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul."
European Union governments reached a preliminary agreement Monday to also impose sanctions on 15 additional Russians, Reuters reported.
Russia announced new military exercises along its border with Ukraine last week, unnerving Ukraine and Western powers, who fear a possible invasion of eastern areas. NATO has said Russia has up to 40,000 troops stationed in regions along the border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.