Amid tensions at home, dozens of Ukrainian immigrants arrive in Israel

As Russian invasion looms, minister tells Ukrainian Jews that Israel ‘open to them during normal times as well as in emergencies’

Ukrainian immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 20, 2022. (Courtesy)
Ukrainian immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 20, 2022. (Courtesy)

Dozens of new immigrants from Ukraine arrived in Israel on Sunday as tensions on the frontier between Ukraine and Russia reached new highs.

The Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption said 75 immigrants arrived on the initial flight and another 22 were scheduled to land in Israel later in the day.

“Our message to the Jews of Ukraine is very clear — Israel will always be their home; our gates are open to them during normal times as well as in emergencies,” said Immigrant Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

“Today we are happy to greet dozens of immigrants from Ukraine, and we are prepared to absorb thousands who want to move to Israel… we are waiting with open arms,” she added.

Jana Kovlenko, who arrived from Kyiv with her husband, Evgeni, and their daughter, said that “right now it’s scary in Ukraine. Everyone is only talking about war. Until the last moment we were worried that the flight would be canceled due to the situation.”

Gidi Schmerling, of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which organized the flight, said the immigrants were tense in the hours before departure.

“When the plane took off,” Schmerling, who was on board, told Army Radio, “there was applause.”

He said the new arrivals had been scheduled to immigrate, rather than rushing to do because of the current crisis.

Ukrainian immigrants arrive at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on February 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ukraine has about 43,300 people who self-identify as Jews and about 200,000 eligible to immigrate to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, according to a 2020 demographic study of European Jewry.

Separately Sunday, Israeli diplomats serving in countries bordering Ukraine visited border crossings and met with the officials in charge of the stations to discuss a potential land evacuation of Israelis and Ukrainian Jews should Russia invade.

As announced by the Foreign Ministry, Israel’s consular section in Kyiv opened Sunday — which it generally does not do — to provide consular services to Israelis looking to leave the country. Few citizens showed up, which the ministry interpreted as a sign that those looking to leave have already done so.

In an interview with The Times of Israel last week at his Kyiv office, Ambassador Michael Brodsky said Israelis should immediately leave Ukraine and not count on rescue flights to extract them if war breaks out.

On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry issued a fresh call for Israelis in Ukraine to immediately leave the country, amid growing Western warnings of a looming Russian invasion.

JTA contributed to this report.

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