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'It's very moving to get back after three months'

After weeks of closure, Israel envoy to Ukraine raises flag in front of Kyiv embassy

Ambassador Michael Brodsky in Ukrainian capital for 1st time since Russia invaded; meets with local officials to discuss Israel’s role in country’s reconstruction

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israel Ambassador to Ukraine raises Israel's flag in front of the embassy in Kyiv, May 17, 2022 (courtesy)
Israel Ambassador to Ukraine raises Israel's flag in front of the embassy in Kyiv, May 17, 2022 (courtesy)

Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky raised the country’s flag in front of the embassy in Kyiv as it was symbolically reopened on Tuesday morning.

Brodsky, along with his deputy Yoav Bistritsky, was leading a team of four Israeli diplomats who arrived in Ukraine’s capital on Monday in order to begin the process of permanently reopening the embassy. That date has yet to be decided.

“We are looking to get back as soon as possible, but obviously it depends on developments on the ground,” Brodsky told The Times of Israel in a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon.

The trip marks the first time that the ambassador and his team have been in Kyiv since before the start of the Russian invasion.

Brodsky will meet with members of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky’s staff this week.

“It is a city with PTSD,” Brodsky said. “It’s a bit sad, it’s a bit down. Much fewer people, much fewer cars.”

The city is still under curfew after 11 pm.

The Israelis were awakened twice during the night by air raid sirens, and went down into their hotel’s shelter.

“Otherwise, it’s very moving to get back on the streets after three months,” Brodsky said.

The embassy staff was initially moved to the western city of Lviv on February 21, three days before the start of the war. They were relocated five days later to a hotel in the Polish border city of Przemysl, where they spent much of their time at the often chaotic border crossings helping Israeli citizens flee the country.

In meetings with Ukrainian officials, Brodsky and his staff are holding conversations on the rebuilding of Ukraine, and what role Israel can play.

“Israel wants to be part of these efforts,” Brodsky said. “We’ve identified main fields where we can contribute – health, homeland security, agriculture, water management, even infrastructure.”

Israel envoy to Ukraine Michael Brodsky in Kyiv on his first day back since before the Russian invasion, May 16, 2022 (courtesy)

Israel is exploring ways to assist both as a state and through private Israeli companies.

Brodsky also met with the local embassy staffers who remained in the country.

One local staffer was caught with her family under Russian occupation in Chernihiv in the north of the country. “She told us in detail what she went through,” Brodsky said, “and it’s not an easy story.”

Israel has been paying the salaries of its local employees throughout the war. It will be asking its staff to return to Kyiv once the embassy fully opens.

Brodsky also visited the coffin of Ukraine’s first post-Soviet president, Leonid Kravchuk, who died on Wednesday and whose body is lying in state in Kyiv.

Israel envoy to Ukraine Michael Brodsky pays respects to Ukraine’s first post-Soviet president Leonid Kravchuk, whose body is lying in state in Kyiv, May 17, 2022 (courtesy)

The Israeli flag-raising comes as other Western nations have been moving to reopen their missions in Ukraine’s capital. US diplomats returned to Kyiv for the first time on May 8, ahead of Vladimir Putin’s Victory Day address in Moscow the next day. Axios reported that the Biden administration is accelerating plans to reopen its embassy in Ukraine.

Also May 8, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reopened Canada’s embassy in Kyiv during a surprise visit. However, Ottawa has not announced a date for a full reopening with complete services.

The embassy reopenings underscore the scope of Moscow’s failures in the war. Russia sought to take Kyiv in the opening stage of the invasion, but retreated with heavy losses after Ukrainian forces successfully held off the attack.

Much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas region in the country’s southeast, but there the conflict also has turned into a slog, with both sides fighting village by village.

Putin launched the invasion on February 24 in what he said was an effort to check NATO’s expansion and to “de-Nazify” Ukraine — which is led by a Jewish president.

Ukraine made a symbolic gain in the northeast earlier this week when its forces reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region. Video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a post that resembled a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker and then posing next to it.

Ukrainian National Guard soldiers gather in a house used as temporary base in a recently retaken village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, east Ukraine, Saturday, May 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers was from the border “in the Kharkiv region,” but would not elaborate, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.

Elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. In the Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in shelling.

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses counted at least eight blasts accompanied by distant booms.

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