Two Ukrainian soldiers who were severely injured in the war in Ukraine arrived Monday in Israel as part of an agreement that will see 20 service members receiving advanced medical treatment in an Israeli hospital, the Sheba hospital said.
The hospital indicated that all 20 injured veterans who will eventually be flown to Israel are amputees and will go through rehabilitation and be fitted for the specific prosthetics they require at the hospital outside Tel Aviv.
Sheba ran a field hospital in western Ukraine, away from the front lines, for six weeks shortly after Russia invaded, mostly to treat civilians.
Israel for years provided medical treatment to Syrians who came to the Golan border during the civil war there, eventually setting up a military field hospital as part of what was described as a humanitarian effort.
The announcement that Ukrainians would be brought to Israel came after harsh criticism against Israel from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said Friday he was “shocked” by Israel’s lack of defense aid.
Israel has provided Ukraine humanitarian aid and protective equipment, including helmets and flak jackets, but has held off on military supplies as Jerusalem seeks to preserve crucial ties with Moscow.
Israel was one of the few countries to have had warm ties with both warring sides at the start of the war, although the relationship with Moscow has soured in recent months.
Israel has increasingly sided with Kyiv, especially since Prime Minister Yair Lapid took office in July. His predecessor, Naftali Bennett, attempted to broker a deal between Ukraine and Russia.
Russia controls the airspace over Syria, where Israel operates against Iran-linked forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group. Russia has largely turned a blind eye to the Israeli airstrikes.
Russia is also home to a significant Jewish population, which appears to have become a bargaining chip, as Russia has threatened to shut down the Jewish Agency, which facilitates Jewish emigration to Israel.
Thousands of Ukrainians and Russians, mostly Jewish, have fled to Israel since the start of the war.
Israel’s reluctance to assist Ukraine’s military has repeatedly drawn criticism from Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders. On Friday, Zelensky complained in an interview that Israel had given “nothing” to Ukraine to help it defend itself.
“Israel gave us nothing. Nothing, zero,” Zelensky told France’s TV5Monde. “I understand they are in a difficult situation with Syria, with Russia.”
Ukraine has requested Israeli missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome, that could be used to fend off Russian airstrikes.
“I understand they need to defend their land, but then I got information from my intelligence services that Israel provides [the air defenses] in other countries. They can sell, they can export, which is why I am shocked,” Zelensky said.
Israel keeps a lid on how many Iron Dome batteries it possesses and where they are deployed, but it has provided two of the systems to the US, which helped fund its development, and reports recently indicated a deal to sell batteries to Cyprus.
The vaunted Iron Dome intercepts short-range projectiles, such as the relatively crude rockets and mortars fired at Israel by Gaza terror groups. It’s unclear if it would be effective against the larger, more sophisticated Russian missiles pounding Ukrainian cities. The system also requires highly trained troops for its operation.
Earlier this month, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael reported that an Israeli defense contractor was supplying anti-drone systems to Ukraine’s military by way of Poland.