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Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, who heads Ukraine's second largest city with more than 1.5 million people, walks into his vast office from the back door this week, stares at his Apple computer screen and says “Let's start.”

It's been a couple of weeks since the controversial mayor made a jarring shift from being an ardent supporter of overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych to leader of a separatist movement and finally to acceptance of the new government.

Now he says that the Yanukovych era is history.

"I didn't say he is the past, I said he is the history, a historical lesson that should be learned," the mayor explained.

Until the switch, Kernes had often been accused of organizing AntiMaidan demonstrations, as well as squads of titushki, the government-hired thugs who did the dirty work at protests, such as provocations and ambushes against EuroMaidan supporters.

Henadiy Kernes
 

Kernes does not deny the accusations, but says he was a victim of the Yanukovych system.

"If someone had been prisoner of the system, it was the local authorities, and I was one of those,” he said. “For me, Kharkiv residents were above everything else.”

But those Kharkiv residents who supported EuroMaidan protests disagree. They often refer to Kernes as a “bandit” and say he's just as guilty of the EuroMaidan casualties -- the hundreds beaten and the scores killed -- as Yanukovych.

“Both Kernes and (former governor Mykhailo Dobkin) are freaks, bastards. I am ashamed of how they behaved and what they did during these last few months, organizing titushkas and stuff,” says Roman Kiselev, a local businessman.

Their deeds have prompted Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria to put both officials on the list of sanctioned individuals, whose assets and accounts have been frozen.

Kernes seems to be unpopular even with many pro-Russian Kharkiv residents, too. They think the mayor betrayed them when he pledged loyalty to the new government appointed on Feb. 27, five days after parliament removed Yanukovych from office after he fled Kyiv and settled in Russia.

"Now we just don't have anyone to protect our rights. Even Kernes, who shouted that he going to protect us, has given up on us,” says Volodymyr Bereznikov, a pro-Russian protester from Kharkiv.

Henadiy Kernes
 
 
Kernes, however, insists he has not betrayed anyone.

"I think these statements are just emotions running high because of the country's unrest,” he says. "For some reason many people now think that they can change things by just talking, I am sure I did not betray or given up on people, I am working for them now."

The Kharkiv mayor says he is looking forward to working with new authorities and even praised the appointment of Ukraine's billionaires Ihor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta as governors of Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk oblasts, respectively.

“It's the right thing to do to appoint the people who managed to build a successful business, who created workplaces, to take charge of regions," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin could not disagree more.

In his televised interview on March 4, he griped about the appointments and called Kolomoisky “a crook” who cheated Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich. On March 6, the Russian Central Bank imposed its administration over Kolomoisky's PrivatBank branch.

But Kernes says businessmen in power will create the kind of conditions for business they would be comfortable to work with themselves. "By accepting such posts they definitely risk their image, so if they still decided to accept, it means it's worth a try,” he says. 

Kernes is a lot less positive about the new Kharkiv Oblast governor Ihor Baluta, who on March 2 replaced the mayor's personal friend Dobkin. "I will stay in touch with Dobkin whatever post he takes or doesn't take, he is my friend," Kernes says. He clearly does not like to talk about the new governor, a Kharkiv-born member of Batkivshchyna Party.

The Kharkiv mayor, who besides his chameleon-like political changes is known for his extensive Twitter following of nearly 15,000 people, assures that his city will no longer see any separatist referendums.

"There just isn't any place for such calls now," he says. "Communication between central and local authorities is now disrupted, the city critically lacks financing and there is nowhere to get that much-needed money.”

At the same time, he says he expects “good things to come” from the new central government. His expectations might actually be met, despite the fact that many EuroMaidan supporters keep asking when he will end up on the wanted list for his role in suppressing protests.

But Baluta, the new governor, says that will not happen any time soon: "He is a legitimately elected mayor, how can I ignore him or how can I not cooperate with him?”

Editor's Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.

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Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, who heads Ukraine's second largest city with more than 1.5 million people, walks into his vast office from the back door this week, stares at his Apple computer screen and says “Let's start.”

It's been a couple of weeks since the controversial mayor made a jarring shift from being an ardent supporter of overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych to leader of a separatist movement and finally to acceptance of the new government.

Now he says that the Yanukovych era is history.

"I didn't say he is the past, I said he is the history, a historical lesson that should be learned," the mayor explained.

Until the switch, Kernes had often been accused of organizing AntiMaidan demonstrations, as well as squads of titushki, the government-hired thugs who did the dirty work at protests, such as provocations and ambushes against EuroMaidan supporters.

Henadiy Kernes
 

Kernes does not deny the accusations, but says he was a victim of the Yanukovych system.

"If someone had been prisoner of the system, it was the local authorities, and I was one of those,” he said. “For me, Kharkiv residents were above everything else.”

But those Kharkiv residents who supported EuroMaidan protests disagree. They often refer to Kernes as a “bandit” and say he's just as guilty of the EuroMaidan casualties -- the hundreds beaten and the scores killed -- as Yanukovych.

“Both Kernes and (former governor Mykhailo Dobkin) are freaks, bastards. I am ashamed of how they behaved and what they did during these last few months, organizing titushkas and stuff,” says Roman Kiselev, a local businessman.

Their deeds have prompted Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria to put both officials on the list of sanctioned individuals, whose assets and accounts have been frozen.

Kernes seems to be unpopular even with many pro-Russian Kharkiv residents, too. They think the mayor betrayed them when he pledged loyalty to the new government appointed on Feb. 27, five days after parliament removed Yanukovych from office after he fled Kyiv and settled in Russia.

"Now we just don't have anyone to protect our rights. Even Kernes, who shouted that he going to protect us, has given up on us,” says Volodymyr Bereznikov, a pro-Russian protester from Kharkiv.

Henadiy Kernes
 
 
Kernes, however, insists he has not betrayed anyone.

"I think these statements are just emotions running high because of the country's unrest,” he says. "For some reason many people now think that they can change things by just talking, I am sure I did not betray or given up on people, I am working for them now."

The Kharkiv mayor says he is looking forward to working with new authorities and even praised the appointment of Ukraine's billionaires Ihor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta as governors of Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk oblasts, respectively.

“It's the right thing to do to appoint the people who managed to build a successful business, who created workplaces, to take charge of regions," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin could not disagree more.

In his televised interview on March 4, he griped about the appointments and called Kolomoisky “a crook” who cheated Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich. On March 6, the Russian Central Bank imposed its administration over Kolomoisky's PrivatBank branch.

But Kernes says businessmen in power will create the kind of conditions for business they would be comfortable to work with themselves. "By accepting such posts they definitely risk their image, so if they still decided to accept, it means it's worth a try,” he says. 

Kernes is a lot less positive about the new Kharkiv Oblast governor Ihor Baluta, who on March 2 replaced the mayor's personal friend Dobkin. "I will stay in touch with Dobkin whatever post he takes or doesn't take, he is my friend," Kernes says. He clearly does not like to talk about the new governor, a Kharkiv-born member of Batkivshchyna Party.

The Kharkiv mayor, who besides his chameleon-like political changes is known for his extensive Twitter following of nearly 15,000 people, assures that his city will no longer see any separatist referendums.

"There just isn't any place for such calls now," he says. "Communication between central and local authorities is now disrupted, the city critically lacks financing and there is nowhere to get that much-needed money.”

At the same time, he says he expects “good things to come” from the new central government. His expectations might actually be met, despite the fact that many EuroMaidan supporters keep asking when he will end up on the wanted list for his role in suppressing protests.

But Baluta, the new governor, says that will not happen any time soon: "He is a legitimately elected mayor, how can I ignore him or how can I not cooperate with him?”

Editor's Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.

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