The Jewish mayor of the eastern Ukrainian town of Kharkov was shot in the back by unidentified masked gunmen on Monday and is now fighting for his life, even as Israel’s president warned Jews around the world on Holocaust Remembrance Day to watch for signs of rising anti-Semitism.
Pro-Russian separatists captured Kharkov, eastern Ukraine’s second-largest town, on Monday, according to a report by RIA Novosti. The news outlet quoted a friend of Mayor Gennady Kernes who said, “They shot him in the back from the forest… His lung is pierced and his liver pierced all the way through.”
Aides said the mayor had recently received numerous threats, RT News reported. The attack, which came less than 24 hours after a clash between anti-government protesters and nationalists in the city left 14 people injured, left Kernes critically wounded.
Speaking at the opening ceremonies Monday for Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Peres spoke of the death of his family in the little town of Vishnyeva, in Poland. Two thousand Jews all died there after being locked into the wooden synagogue building by the Nazis, and then burned alive.
“Half of the Jews of Vishnyeva made aliyah to Israel, the other half, which did not, were burned alive,” the president said. “Our body was slashed in two – but our spirit remains undivided, pulsating here in Israel as a locked memory, an independent Jewish renaissance never again to be destroyed.”
The clear warning issued by the president is one the Jews in Ukraine now must heed – if they even had a chance to hear it as the rising war begins to rage around them.
So far the Jews of Kharkov seem to be safe – but the city has a bloody past in terms of protecting its Jews. More than 15,000 Jewish residents of Kharkov were murdered between December 1941 and January 1942, herded by Germans into a ghetto area set up for them about five miles from the city and periodically hauled out and shot to death. Some were just buried alive. A mass grave was discovered not far from the site, in the Drobitzki Valley.
Many of the supporters of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are also anti-Semitic, sources told the Arutz Sheva website in an interview in February. As a result, some of the community is considering aliyah.
In the eastern Ukraine on Monday, armed gunmen also seized town of Kostyantynivka, entering the administration building and the police headquarters. International media reported that masked gunmen were wearing camouflage outfits and were armed with assault weapons.
Both towns are located in the Donetsk region, along with Sloviansk, a third city which also has now been declared an independent entity by pro-Russian secessionists.
Protesters seized a local state TV station in the city of Donetsk. The protesters demanded the launch of a ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ TV channel, and that Russian TV channels be broadcast. The Ukrainian flag was lowered from the building and the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic was raised in its place – but later, that too was removed. Nevertheless, a source told Interfax-Ukraine that secessionist security personnel remained at the TV station to enforce the demands.