On December 17, 2020, the mayor of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes died while in the care of Berlin’s Charité clinic – one of the oldest in Germany, and which has been around since the beginning of the 18th century. One of Ukraine’s most controversial politicians and a businessman with a criminal past, Kernes was a political flip-flop. The people of Kharkiv loved him nonetheless, with Kernes garnering over 60 percent of votes in 2015 and 2020 mayoral elections, always winning in the first round. Even though Kernes supported the Ukrainian Maidan in 2014, many accused him of pro-Russian sentiments. His many enemies included the current Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who at one time was accused of failing to pay his debts, the Kharkiv regional governor) Igor Baluta, as well as nationalists and “federalists” alike. At the same time, Kernes managed to keep his balance on the shaky platform of Ukrainian domestic politics, although not without losses. His predilection for a healthy lifestyle backfired on April 28, 2014, when, during a routine jog, the mayor suffered an attempt on his life. The assassin’s bullet pierced his lung and liver, but doctors in Israel, where Kernes was rushed to the following day, managed to save his life. Since then, the mayor of Kharkiv had been confined to a wheelchair…
On September 15 of this year, the press service of the mayor of Kharkiv officially confirmed that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Things took a serious turn, given his past injury, disability and age. This did not prevent him from being re-elected as mayor of Kharkiv though, already in the first round. However, it looks like in their choice for the Charité clinic, Kernes or his team made a big mistake. Last time, Gennady Kernes, a Jew, was saved by Israeli doctors, but the doctors at the world-famous German clinic couldn’t… or didn’t want to save him. On December 11, Kernes suffered a kidney failure and died on the 17th on his hospital bed at Charité.
How come? The best clinic in Germany, with an impressive record of treating serious conditions, a hospital that has saved the lives of Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, and finally, of Alexei Navalny, fails to save the life of someone who was brought to this expensive hospital without any delay. His death may finally break the wall erected to deflate the avalanche of questions about this clinic and its role in political games.
Strange diagnoses and effective treatment
The professionalism of the clinic’s doctors was mentioned in Yulian Semenov’s 17 Moments of Spring spy story, which later came out as TV series of the same name making the Charité clinic well known in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. One of the series’ main characters, radio operator Kat, gives birth to her baby right at the Charité hospital, and, delirious during childbirth, accidentally speaks Russian. The doctor and the nurse then calmly discuss who of them will report this to the Gestapo… Apparently, the situation has not changed there since the fall of Nazism with the doctors at this clinic putting cooperation with the special services before their duty as medics.
Two politicians, one clinic, but two different treatments
In Ukraine, the Charité clinic became well known after the strange “poisoning” of Viktor Yushchenko that no one was accused of. In September 2004, Yushchenko, who was then a frontrunner in the race for president, fell sick and was taken to this German hospital. Rumors about his poisoning swirled, with Yushcenko’s rivals naturally blamed for this. Before long, Yushchenko’s face became covered with chloracne, which gave him the nickname “Shrek” – the troll from the popular cartoon, or “Goblin.” However, the poisoning stood him in good stead, as the Ukrainians’ feelings of pity and compassion reportedly earned him an additional four percent of the vote. And the much-learned German medics were still unable to figure out the causes of the poisoning. Possible versions ranged from unsuccessful stem cell treatment to foul play by Russian special services. As for Yushchenko, he pointed a finger at internal enemies and the laboratory where the poison had allegedly been made. It wasn’t until 2009 that a more or less credible version appeared after Britain’s authoritative journal Lancet published a study on Yushchenko’s poisoning with dioxin (correctly – 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin or C12H4Cl4O2). Strangely, the German professionals failed to make a quick diagnosis (and a pretty simple one at that) but, what makes the whole story even funnier, the famous German toxicologist, professor at the Charité clinic, Gilbert Schönfelder, advised Viktor Yushchenko to eat ordinary potato chips, which contain fat that removes dioxin.
Even if this could have been due to confidentiality and simple concealment of the diagnosis at the patient’s request, then in the case of Yushchenko’s not so faithful ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, we can see a clear political bias on the part of the Charité doctors. Arrested and convicted in 2011 “for abuse of office,” and known for her hectic political activity, healthy lifestyle and sportsmanship, the ex-Prime Minister was quick to report her numerous diseases. In April 2012, doctors from the Charité clinic who were summoned to look into her condition, claimed that she had a chronic herniated disc and that this well-studied disease could not be effectively treated in Ukraine. Moreover, in October 2013, the head of the Charité, Professor Karl Max Einhoipl, said that without surgery, Tymoshenko had no chance of recovery. Released from prison after the Ukrainian “color” revolution, Tymoshenko spent the next few days moving around Kiev in a wheelchair, but the high-heels she wore quickly became a popular meme. The onetime prisoner of the “Yanukovych regime” then headed for Berlin, where after a brief course of physiotherapy she walked again.
Tymoshenko’s case was politically motivated, no doubt about that, but why should doctors participate in a political farce and play political games declaring an incurable disease only to cure it in a snap? Lying does not do the clinic any good.
Sister “Death” and “Novichok”
Sadly enough, in 2020 the reputation of the Charité was compromised even more. It was where that the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was taken to, after having allegedly been poisoned with Novichok. For some reason, no one gave a thought to the fact that neither Putin nor anyone in his entourage was in the least interested in such a scandal, and that Navalny could have been eliminated in a simpler and much less obvious way. And still, the clinic’s experts almost immediately found traces of Novichok – a strange and apparently absolutely ineffective poison which, according to accounts about its use, is not capable of killing anyone. Navalny thus became a living and healthy martyr for Russian democracy, and the doctors received commendations from the special services. However, it seems that, if necessary, Navalny would repeat the fate of Kernes, because martyrs are often good when they are dead.
Notably, it was at the very same Charité hospital where Irena Becker, nicknamed “Sister Death,” worked as a nurse and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007 for the murder of five patients, laying bare the failure of German medicine. By the way, just a few months from now this woman may walk free for good behavior. During her work at the famous German clinic, Becker hounded and tortured the patients she did not like, killing them by administering lethal doses of drugs. At some point, she forgot an empty vial of the dangerous drug, which ultimately led to her arrest. The exact number of her victims is still unclear, but this incident left many questions about the organization of control over medical personnel in the “best” German clinic.
The situation with Tymoshenko alone shows how German doctors are involved in political games and will have no qualms whatsoever about fabricating diagnoses to please the special services. The death of Kernes, and sending him to Germany, instead of Israel, raises even more questions though. True, for all his cunning, obvious ties with Russia and a desire to play a balancing game between various political forces, the mayor of Kharkiv was a disabled man with a damaged lung. After 15 years of lies and strange diagnoses, we do not think that his fellow country folk will believe that he died of natural causes. What is clear, however, is that the flow of VIP patients from the former Soviet republics to the Charité clinic may slow down because no one wants to become a martyr for democracy and end up lying quietly in a spotlessly-clean German morgue. Just what the German special services and their overseas partners may come up with is really hard to foretell.
Written by Ruslan Pankratov
Ruslan Pankratov: When a healthy lifestyle hurts: Death of Kharkiv mayor raises more questions