The mayor of Ukraine’s second-largest city has been shot in the back and pro-Russia separatists have seized yet another government building as tensions rise in eastern Ukraine ahead of a new round of US sanctions.
Hennady Kernes, the mayor of Kharkiv, was shot in the back on Monday morning, his office said. Kernes was said to be undergoing surgery and “doctors are fighting for his life,” according to the city hall.
Armed separatists in the city are seeking more autonomy in the region from the interim government in Ukraine, which pro-Russia groups do not recognise as legitimate.
The shooting happened as Barack Obama, the US president, promised to levy new sanctions on Russian individuals and companies in retaliation for Moscow’s alleged provocations in eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press news agency.
Officials have not commented on the circumstances of the shooting and it was not clear who was behind it.
Kernes was a staunch opponent of the pro-West Maidan movement that toppled President Viktor Yanukovich in February and was widely viewed as the organiser of activists sent to Kiev from eastern Ukraine to harass those demonstrators.
But he has since softened his stance towards the new Kiev government and insisted that he does not support the pro-Russia separatists or any annexation of Ukrainian territory.
Kharkiv is in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian gunmen have seized government buildings, set up roadblocks or staged protests to demand greater autonomy or outright annexation by Russia.
Ukraine’s acting government and the West have accused Russia of orchestrating the unrest, which they fear Moscow could use as a pretext for an invasion.
Last month, Russia annexed Crimea weeks after seizing control of the Black Sea peninsula.
On Monday, masked men with automatic weapons seized another city hall building in eastern Ukraine, this time in Kostyantynivka, 160km from the Russian border.
Sanctions on exports
Kostyantynivka is just 35km south of Slovyansk, a major city in eastern Ukraine that has been in separatists’ hands for more than three weeks now.
President Obama said on a visit to the Philippines earlier on Monday that the targets of the latest US sanctions would include high-technology exports to Russia’s defence industry.
The full list, which is also expected to include wealthy allies of Putin, will be announced by officials in Washington later on Monday.
The European Union is also planning more sanctions against Russia, with ambassadors from the bloc’s 28 members to meet on Monday in Brussels to add to the list of Russian officials who have been hit by asset freezes and travel bans.