Kernes and Dobkin have run Kharkiv for years as members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which dominated the Russian-speaking southeast for years but has rapidly disintegrated since Yanukovych and his closest allies fled the country in February.
Russian state TV recently ran a phone tap from a conversation between Kernes and oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, now governor of neighboring Dnipropetrovsk. Both men have long been believed to be high rollers in east Ukrainian criminal circles.
They are most famous, however, for this outtake from an old campaign video, where Kernes admonishes Dobkin (“Dopa”) from behind the camera in highly colorful, almost completely untranslatable, swearing.
On Feb. 22, Kernes and Dobkin held a Soviet-style party conference to launch a separatist movement in response to the protests. The movement, however, collapsed later that day, and Yanukovych fled for Russia.
Since then, Kharkiv has weathered the storm facing the rest of the east, where separatist militants Ukraine and the West says are backed by Russia have seized government buildings and taken several hostages.
That’s not to say there haven’t been cracks. Violence has sporadically broken out, and anti-Kiev protesters have briefly seized a few government buildings.
In a Kharkiv group on Russian Facebook clone Vkontakte, pro-Ukrainian users prayed for Kernes to survive the assassination attempt — much to their own surprise. “I always wanted him to die, but, fuck, I feel sorry for him :(,” Tatiana Tarasyuk wrote.
Max Seddon is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Kiev. Seddon reports on Ukraine and Russia. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
Contact Max Seddon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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