After repeated warnings to leave Ukraine for days leading up to the Russian invasion on Thursday, some 8,000 Israelis and a large Jewish community were still in the country when the airport was suddenly inaccessible, leaving tens of thousands scrambling to find a way out.
ALL ISRAEL NEWS has spoken with several Ukrainian Israelis who have family and friends in Ukraine that are now stuck there and unable to get to safety. Some Christian and Messianic believers intentionally stayed in Kyiv to care for those who were unable to escape in time. They called on Friday for believers to fast and pray for their safety.
So far, around 100,000 people in Ukraine have been displaced and are heading to various land border crossings in an attempt to escape. The Israeli embassy relocated to Lviv from Kyiv earlier in the week and the staff is working to assist Israelis find passage back to the Jewish state.
Several organizations are working with the Israeli government on this. Anticipating the crisis for several weeks, the Jewish Agency for Israel “is enacting an emergency plan to help Jews currently living in harm's way as well as those who are now ready to take an emergency aliyah (immigration) flight to Israel,” the organization said in a letter to supporters just as the invasion began.
The Jewish Agency strategy includes evacuation, rescue flights, emergency housing, aid for the Jewish community and assistance in getting them to Israel.
“The Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Yedidut have joined together to open an emergency center for Ukrainian Jews intended to provide guidance and information regarding the aliyah (immigration) process to Israel,” Yaakov Hagoel, the Agency’s acting chairman, and Michael Siegal, chairman of the Board of Governors, said in a letter.
In detailing its plan, the agency said in a letter to supporters that the plan is based on its experience from the 2014 crisis.
“We know that thousands of olim (immigrants) will require a temporary stop point after fleeing their homes. While their aliyah is being processed and the proper steps are being taken to assure their safe passage to Israel, we need to provide olim with a temporary shelter. In addition to the shelter, we will be providing food, supplies, security and other necessities to those in the shelters.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) also sprang into action, establishing an emergency program and dedicating $1 million to help the Jewish community in Ukraine get to safety. The funds will go to local organizations to provide food, transportation and accommodations for those who are left victimized by the war or are trying to get out of the country.
Yael Eckstein, president of IFCJ, said the organization wants to “reach every Jewish individual and community in need and provide them with food, shelter, and any other form of assistance they may require, including providing aliyah services whenever and wherever possible.
“We have been maintaining constant contact with our partners throughout Ukraine in order to ascertain and meet their rapidly evolving needs,” Eckstein said.
IFCJ already helped 60 children – ages 6 to 17 – evacuate Zhytomyr to Chernivtsi when they woke up to sounds of explosions on Thursday morning.
The organization is trying to organize another bus for Jewish families in Zhytomyr to send them further West.
Evgeniya Zak, integration coordinator at IFCJ who has family living near the border, said they had been optimistic – until Thursday.
“Today we heard the apprehension and stress in their voices for the first time. At this moment my family, like many citizens in the region, are making their way to the Polish border. I very much hope that they can quickly cross the border in peace,” Zak said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is actively monitoring the situation and the government is preparing to receive new immigrants on an emergency basis.
In the week prior to the invasion, IFCJ helped 100 Jews emigrate from Ukraine to Israel. The Jewish Agency said that 3,000 Jews emigrated from Ukraine last year, but they are expecting between 4,000 to 8,000 new immigrants due to the present crisis.
The Aliyah and Absorption Ministry for immigration to Israel said about 400 people applied in Lviv on Thursday compared to 60 up until then.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.