Israel’s Jewish Agency airlifted six Jews — including a young couple with twin baby girls — from violence-ridden eastern Ukraine in an emergency operation on Tuesday.
The immigrants had been set to come to Israel via Donestk on Monday night, but due to violence that erupted around the airport Monday after the country’s presidential elections, all flights were grounded. The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency stepped in and evacuated the six to Dnepropetrovsk, whence the immigrants flew to Kiev and on to Israel.
“Jewish Agency representatives in Ukraine continue to be active in all areas and are prepared for any eventuality, as shown by this latest event in my own city of birth, Donetsk,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said in a statement. “Due to the current situation in the country, we have significantly expanded our activities, assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel, bringing young people to experience life in Israel on a variety of Jewish Agency programs, providing Hebrew classes, and so on.”
The Jewish Agency said in a press release that it had some 90 staff members on the ground in Ukraine, and had heightened preparedness for further operations to assist the estimated 30,000 Jews in Donetsk province, of whom some 11,000 live in the city of Donetsk.
The Jewish Agency has also started a hotline for Ukrainian Jews wishing to move to Israel.
The hotline streamlines the immigration process, a senior Jewish Agency official told JTA. It was opened earlier this month in the wake of unrest following the Ukrainian revolution in February.
Immigration from Ukraine to Israel nearly tripled in March 2014 as compared to last year, and was up 142 percent from January to April, according to the Jewish Agency.
Ukraine’s eastern region has seen fighting and civil unrest in the months since a provisional government was installed in Kiev.
Sharansky told JTA that although there were no plans as of yet for a mass evacuation of Jews in the region, the situation has put the Jewish community there in a precarious position.
“In [eastern] Ukraine there is a vacuum of power, and where there is a vacuum of power there is anti-Semitism,” he said. “Jews at any moment can be the victims. That’s why we have to be ready to act at any moment.”