Ukrainian Jews immigrate to Israel amid growing unrest

19 arrive on Sunday; Jewish Agency says over 200 signed up for May alone; immigration from troubled country up 142%

Jews participate in a Havdalah ceremony in a synagogue in Odessa, Ukraine, 2012. (photo credit: CC BY-Senia L/Flickr)
Jews participate in a Havdalah ceremony in a synagogue in Odessa, Ukraine, 2012. (photo credit: CC BY-Senia L/Flickr)

A group of 19 Ukrainian Jews were immigrating to Israel on Sunday amid an escalating crisis that has seen a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks.

The group, whose arrival was coordinated in advance with the Jewish Agency for Israel, includes three families and three single women, according to a press release from the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, which raised funds for the flight.

“The unfolding crisis in Ukraine has meant an even more uncertain future for the Jewish community there, and we have acted swiftly once again to bring needy and endangered Jews home from this troubled region. It will be a privilege for our staff to welcome this first group home on Sunday,” ICEJ Executive Director Jürgen Bühler said in a statement.

The ICEJ said it has been “raising funds from Christians worldwide over recent weeks” and has so far collected enough to bring 100 Jews to Israel, including the 19 set to arrive Sunday.

According to a Jewish Agency blog post from last week, so far 2014 has seen a 142% increase in immigration to Israel from Ukraine, as compared to 2013. Almost 800 people arrived in the country over January-April, and over 200 have signed up for May. The agency noted these figures do not include those who have arrived as tourists and later completed the immigration process while already in the country.

In November, a revolution erupted in Ukraine over the policies of former president Viktor Yanukovych, which many perceived to be pro-Russian. He was ousted from power in February and replaced by a provisional government which scheduled elections for next month.

Hundreds died or were injured in deadly clashes between government troops and protesters. In the ensuing chaos, Ukrainian Jewish groups and individuals reported several attacks, including two stabbings, a few street beatings and the attempted torching of two synagogues.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited anti-Semitism to justify what international observers said was a Russian invasion into the Crimean Peninsula and its subsequent annexation to the Russian Federation.

Ukrainian officials and nationalists, in turn, have accused pro-Russian separatists of staging anti-Semitic attacks to discredit the Ukrainian revolution and its supporters.

Speaking in Kiev last month, US president Joe Biden lashed out lashed out at growing anti-Semitism in Ukraine, saying that “Just as corruption can have no place in the new Ukraine, neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry.

“Let me say that again,” he continued, “neither can anti-Semitism or bigotry. No place. None. Zero. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms all threats and attacks against Ukrainian Jewish communities as well as Roma and others.”

Last week, the Jewish mayor of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, was flown to Israel for emergency medical treatment after he was left in critical condition in a shooting incident.

AP and JTA contributed to this report.

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