JERUSALEM—All morning I’ve been talking and texting with Christians and Jews in Ukraine, as well as Israelis who have family and friends in Ukraine.
To a person, they are all in total shock.
None of them – not a single person that I have spoken with – believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was really going to invade.
Now some 8,000 Israelis living, visiting or working in Ukraine find themselves trapped.
They are unable to leave the country because all of the airports are closed or being bombed.
“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” one Israeli official told me, willing to speak on the condition of anonymity. “We told all Israelis to leave Ukraine. We said it over and over but they didn’t listen. They didn’t believe Putin would really do it.”
“The airport are closed or are under attack,” the official added. “And all the roads heading out of Ukraine are jammed by vehicles of others trying to flee the country.”
The officials said the Israeli government was developing a plan to evacuate Israelis but couldn’t discuss details.
EYEWITNESS REPORTS FROM A UKRAINIAN PASTOR
“I just called a friend of mine, a pastor in Ukraine, right along the border with one of the separatist regions,” an Evangelical Christian in Israel who lived in Ukraine for several decades told me. “He said that he and his wife were awakened this morning early by explosions, either bombs or artillery. And there's an airfield in the nearby city. It's been bombed and disabled. The reports are that all the airfields across Ukraine have been bombed and disabled.”
“He's heard reports that in the city of Mariupol [not far from the Russian border], full-scale fighting is underway,” we were told by this source, who also asked that his name not be used. “He was in tears. They were under occupation for a short while – in 2014, before Ukrainian forces pushed the separatists back. So they understand what's facing them.”
“We were both crying in tears, and I said, ‘How can we be praying?’ He said, ‘Just pray that God’s sovereign plan would be taking place. I said, ‘What are your plans?’ He says at ten o'clock we’re meeting at the church for prayer.”
“I’m also trusting in God's sovereign plan in all this,” he told me. “But I've never experienced anything like this from all my years in Ukraine – it’s just a horrific situation.”
EYEWITNESS REPORTS FROM A CHRISTIAN IN KYIV
A Christian ministry leader in the Ukrainian capital reports, “There’s explosions around Kyiv.”
The leader says they are considering fleeing the country, but are afraid that journey might be more dangerous than staying put, at least for now.
When asked how Christians around the world should pray, he said, “Please pray that we can be calm and pray that we will not be killed in this conflict.”
ISRAELI WOMAN WITH FAMILY STILL IN UKRAINE REACTS: “WE ARE ALL FEELING SHOCK AND SHAME”
I also spoke with one Israeli woman who grew up in the Soviet Union, made aliyah with her husband after the Soviet empire collapsed, and still has family back in Ukraine.
“I don't know if they're safe,” she said of her family. “We don't yet have a contact with them. They live in Donetsk. I'll try to get in touch with them today if they have an internet. We've been in touch daily for the last few days, few weeks, but now I don't know.”
“The whole Facebook is full of Russians sharing messages with each other,” she told me. “I’ve been reading them for the past four hours. Thousands and thousands of them. What they feeling is shock and shame.”
“They can't believe any of this. Those in Russia feel they're belonging to a nation that is similar to Nazi Germany. Lots of people are saying that ‘Does the 24th February equal the 1st of September 1939?’ [when Nazi Germany invaded Poland]. Because they suddenly feel Putin won't stop there. He won't. That won't be enough for him.”
She told me that now she and many of her friends in Russia and Ukraine believe Putin cannot be stopped.
But 24 hours ago, they were all certain Putin would not invade.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “Nobody believed it. Like, I followed the news. I asked my parents. I [listened to] the very good experts in Russian politics system through Facebook. Nobody believed Putin will do it. Everyone – everyone – believed that he got what he wanted without the war. It's unbelievable. Everybody thought that he was just flexing his muscles, you know, just to show how strong he is.”
“Honestly, nobody believes Putin would really invade Ukraine,” she insisted. “I told my children, ‘They will never do it.’ It's like, Russians against Ukrainians? How is that possible? There is no explanation. I can’t believe it. Sorry, I keep saying it, but I really can’t believe it.”
What will happen next? I asked her.
“I expect there will be a revolt in Russia because I think the majority of people are absolutely not for this and not motivated to fight against the Ukrainians. Everyone thinks that Putin is crazy. I mean, it's obvious and clear for the Russian people that they are willing to die for saving the country against an attack from the Nazis or somebody else. But to die in a fight with their brothers, the Ukrainians? It's crazy.”
“The main feeling we have is shame,” she said again. “My cousin from Moscow, she wrote that today, ‘I feel a shame because of Putin which I didn't vote for, but probably didn't do enough to explain others not to vote for.’ So, that’s a general sense in sensation and feeling guilt – no, not guilt, but shame. Shame on us because we didn't stop Putin. And shame on him. Shame on a government that just follows one sick mentally person.”
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.