Gunmen fire on car carrying Serhiy Shefir, senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in what officials say was assassination bid in response to his crackdown on oligarchs.

An investigator examines bullet holes in a car of Serhiy Shefir, President Zelenskyy's principal aide, following an assault outside the capital Keiv, Ukraine on September 22, 2021.
An investigator examines bullet holes in a car of Serhiy Shefir, President Zelenskyy's principal aide, following an assault outside the capital Keiv, Ukraine on September 22, 2021. (Reuters)

A volley of automatic gunfire has hit a car carrying a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an incident a senior official called an "assassination attempt" and Zelenskyy 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 on Wednesday, just outside the capital Kiev.

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.

'Shooting my friend is weakness'

Zelenskyy, who is in New York for the UN 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 Zelenskyy. 

"Sending me a message by shooting my friend is weakness."

Shefir is close to Zelenskyy and leads a group of advisers.

Zelenskyy 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.

Doubling down

Zelenskyy 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."

Tougher measures against oligarchs

Podolyak, Zelenskiyy'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 news agency.

"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.

Russian denies involvement

Oleksandr Korniienko, the head of Zelenskiyy'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. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies