He clung to power until the end, until he was re-elected as mayor of the second largest city in Ukraine from a bed in a Berlin hospital. Hennady Kernes, eternal survivor of Ukrainian politics, died of Covid-19 on the night of Wednesday 16 to Thursday 17 December at the age of 61.
Hennady Kernes, who had been in a wheelchair since an assassination attempt in 2014, had been hospitalized in Germany since September, after contracting the coronavirus. His condition deteriorated in the fall, without his entourage seeing fit to withdraw his candidacy for the local elections: on October 25, he was easily re-elected at the head of Kharkiv, for the third time since 2010. So many confirmations with a particular talent for negotiating the sometimes very tight bends in Ukrainian politics, making himself indispensable to the central power, choosing the right camp at the right time.
Undivided control of Kharkiv
In 2019, he thus easily survived the wind of degagism embodied by the election to the presidency of Volodymyr Zelensky, a 42-year-old actor who had sworn to wipe out the old-fashioned politics that Hennady Kernes perfectly embodied. After a rise in the 1990s, through links to local organized crime, he exercised unchallenged control of his stronghold in Kharkiv. Accused of corruption (according to an investigation, he would have embezzled nearly half a billion euros during the fraudulent allocation of land), and even of having kidnapped and tortured two pro-Western activists in January 2014 , he escaped all prosecution.
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In 2014, he made the most brilliant demonstration of his pugnacity as much as his political sense. In the spring, the east of the country is set ablaze against a backdrop of pro-European revolution and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Pro-Russian demonstrations agitate the region, while armed groups seize administrative buildings and demand attachment to Russia. Former capital of Ukraine and military-industrial center 30 km from the Russian border, Kharkiv found itself on the brink at the beginning of April, when demonstrators seized the building of the local administration and declared a “People’s Republic of Kharkiv ”.
Hennady Kernes, him, tackles. He has not, in the past, made a secret of his opposition to the demonstrations against President Viktor Yanukovych. When the latter fled to Moscow in February, he followed him to Russia for a few days. On April 13, he announced his support for the idea of an autonomy referendum and demanded an amnesty for the pro-Russian separatists arrested. Ukrainian special forces then dislodged the demonstrators from the headquarters of the administration, without putting an end to the demonstrations.
However, he ended up coming to an understanding with the new Ukrainian authorities. He refuses to support separatist groups, preventing the city from escaping Kiev’s control. Sign of the extreme tension which reigns there, he receives shots in the back on April 28, during his daily jogging.
Hennady Kernes survives, and returns to Kharkiv after weeks of intensive care in an Israeli clinic. Its popularity with the local population has never wavered since.