A volley of shots was fired at a car carrying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's principal aide Wednesday in what a senior official called an assassination attempt.
"Today at around 10 a.m., near the village of Lesniki, the car of the president's chief aide Sergei Shefir came under fire," an advisor to the country's interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko, said on Facebook, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). "More than 10 bullets hit the car. The driver is seriously injured," he said.
"Unidentified individuals fired about 10 shots from a 7.62 caliber automatic weapon," Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Facebook. She added that an investigation was underway for a case of "attempted murder."
According to police, the attack took place near the village of Lesnyky, around 5 km (3 miles) outside the capital Kyiv. It said a criminal case on suspicion of premeditated murder had been opened.
A local television station said at least 19 bullet holes could be seen on the driver's side of the car. A senior lawmaker said the aide, Serhiy Shefir, was not hurt.
Shefir is close to the president, leading a group of advisers and representing the president's "Servant of the People" party.
Shortly after the attack, Zelenskyy, who came to power on a promise to take on the country's oligarchs and fight corruption, promised a "strong response".
"Saying 'hello' to me by shooting out of the forest at my friend's car is weak," he said in a video statement from New York. "The response will be strong."
Zelenskyy, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said it was not yet known who was behind the attack.
But he said: "This does not affect the course that I have chosen with my team – towards changes, towards de-shadowing our economy, towards fighting criminals and large, influential financial groups".Shefir called the attempt on his life an attempt to "intimidate" the presidency.
The president's adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the assassination attempt could be a result of the leader's fight against the oligarchs.
"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.
"The president's policy aimed at the fundamental transformation of the state will remain unchanged," he told Reuters, promising tougher measures against oligarchs. Parliament is this week due to debate a presidential law directed on reducing the influence of oligarchs.
In 2003 Shefir co-founded a production company called "Kvartal 95" with his brother Boris and Zelenskyy, a former comedic-actor turned president in 2019. Shefir produced and wrote the "Servant of the People," a comedic show in which Zelenskyy portrayed a schoolteacher who becomes president.
The head of Zelenskyy's party, Oleksandr Korniienko, suggested that Russia could be behind the hit job targeting Shefir. “A Russian trace should not be absolutely ruled out. We know their ability to organise terrorist attacks in different countries,” he told reporters Wednesday. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said such assessment had “nothing to do with reality”.