By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KYIV – A volley of automatic gunfire hit a car carrying a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday, an incident a senior official called an assassination attempt and Zelenskiy said may have been a message intended for him.
The aide, Serhiy Shefir, survived unscathed but police said his driver had been wounded after more than 10 bullets hit the car near the village of Lesnyky, just outside the capital Kyiv.
A local television station said at least 19 bullet holes could be seen on the driver’s side of the car.
Police said in a statement they had opened a criminal case on suspicion of premeditated murder.
Zelenskiy, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said he did not know for now who was responsible for the attack, which shocked the country’s political elite.
“I don’t know yet who stood behind this,” said Zelenskiy. “Sending me a message by shooting my friend is weakness.”
Shefir is close to Zelenskiy and leads a group of advisers.
Zelenskiy came to power on a promise to take on the country’s oligarchs and fight corruption, and Mykhailo Podolyak, one of his advisers, said the assassination attempt could be a result of the campaign against the oligarchs.
Zelenskiy said he would be doubling down on his planned reforms rather than backing off.
“It does not affect the strength of our team, the course that I have chosen with my team – to change, to clean up our economy, to fight crime and large influential financial groups,” he said.
“This does not affect that. On the contrary, because the Ukrainian people have given me a mandate for changes.”
Podolyak, Zelenskiy’s adviser, promised tougher measures against oligarchs after the attack.
“This open, deliberate and extremely violent assault with automatic weapons cannot be qualified any differently than as an attempted killing of a key team member,” Podolyak told Reuters.
“We, of course, associate this attack with an aggressive and even militant campaign against the active policy of the head of state,” Interfax Ukraine quoted Podolyak as saying separately.
Parliament is this week due to debate a presidential law aimed at reducing the influence of oligarchs in Ukrainian society.
Oleksandr Korniienko, the head of Zelenskiy’s political party, said Russia’s involvement in the attack should also not be ruled out.
“A Russian trace should not be absolutely ruled out. We know their ability to organise terrorist attacks in different countries,” Korniienko told reporters.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said suggestions of Russian involvement were wide of the mark.
“They have nothing to do with reality,” he said.