Bennett holding consultations on state of conflict

‘Head west’: Jerusalem advises thousands of Israelis in Ukraine to exit via Poland

Foreign Ministry officials to huddle on situation; 8,000 citizens believed to be in country under Russian attack; arrangements being made to fly people to Israel from Poland

Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Traffic jams are seen as people leave the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday advised Israelis still in Ukraine to head to the west of the country, away from Russia’s military assault on the country, and to leave through neighboring Poland.

The ministry instructed Israeli citizens to heed safety instructions from Ukrainian authorities.

Several thousand Israeli citizens are estimated to be in Ukraine, which overnight Wednesday was rocked by explosions as Russia unleashed a long-feared campaign.

The Foreign Ministry was to hold a situational assessment on the conflict later in the day.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was holding consultations throughout the morning on the ongoing conflict, The Times of Israel has learned. He was expected to lead a wider meeting on the issue later in the day.

Though the ministry and Israeli leaders have for weeks been urging Israeli citizens to leave Ukraine, fearing for their safety over the expected Russian assault, around 8,000 are believed to still be in the country, according to the Foreign Ministry.

With Ukrainian airspace now closed, preventing any flights out of the country, the ministry advised Israelis to move to the west, far from where Russian forces were expected to focus ground operations.

Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky said embassy staff were preparing to help any Israelis in need to get home.

“We are preparing on the Polish side to receive Israelis and help them to fly to Israel,” Brodsky told Kan news.

Minister of Immigration and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata said Israel was ready to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine and take in Jewish immigrants from the country.

“Israel is prepared to deliver immediate humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,” Tamano-Shata told visiting leaders of American Jewish organizations in Jerusalem.

“We are ready to accept thousands of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine,” she added.

During a visit to Athens, President Isaac Herzog said he was praying for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“This morning I feel great sadness, fearing humanitarian tragedy and God forbid harm to innocent civilians,” said Herzog.

President Isaac Herzog meets in Athens with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou on February 24, 2022. (Tal Schneider)

He reiterated Israel’s support for “the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and called for Israeli citizens to “return immediately to Israel right now through land crossings.”

He also vowed to “care for the fate of the Jewish community in Ukraine,” and to offer “all possible humanitarian cooperation” to the government of Ukraine.”

Brodsky noted that embassy staff will, for the time being, remain in the western city of Lviv, where they relocated in recent days. The city, located about 60 kilometers from the border with Poland, is considered to be under less of an immediate threat than the capital Kyiv.

However, air raid sirens went off in Lviv on Thursday, signaling potential missile attacks.

Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky (Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)

There were no immediate sounds of explosions or other signs of attack as have been reported in other Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv. However, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that a number of bombs did fall in the city. As a precaution, Israel previously gave Russia the exact coordinates of its relocated embassy in the city to prevent it being inadvertently targeted, the station said.

Lviv has turned into the temporary base of several Western embassies, including those of Israel, the United States and Britain.

Deputy Ambassador to Ukraine Yoav Bistritsky told Channel 12 that quite a few Israelis have contacted the embassy for help in trying to leave Kyiv.

Bistritsky estimated that around 4,500 Israelis had left in recent weeks, and that 6,000-8,000 remain.

Dennis Porter, an Israeli who lives in the city of Kharkiv, described to Channel 12 hearing over a dozen explosions at around 4 a.m.

“It seems that is an indication that it has started,” he said.

Employees of his company had called him to ask what to do and Porter instructed them to stay home.

“It is not a very happy situation,” he said. “Of course, we all hoped that nothing would happen and that it would end in diplomacy.”

Porter said he hadn’t believed that an invasion would actually take place, but noted that he doesn’t regret staying.

“People need to stay. There are Jewish and Israeli populations here,” he said.

Porter said he has his car fueled up and his suitcase packed, “but we will leave the place only at the last minute, only if there is shooting here so that we can’t remain.”

Yoav Bistritsky, deputy head of mission in Kyiv, speaks to Times of Israel diplomatic correspondent Lazar Berman in Kyiv on February 15, 2022 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Yonatan Markovitch, a leading community rabbi in Kyiv, told Radio 103FM that he’d heard explosions and could see smoke from his home. He said he was on his way to a shelter that had been prepared at a synagogue.

Echoing Porter, Markovitch said that the Ukrainian government and state security service officials never really believed that Russia would invade.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry issued its first public statement on the ongoing crisis and expressed “concern” over the “serious escalation,” but stopped short of naming Russia or condemning its actions.

However, in light of the now-open warfare, Channel 12 reported that ministry officials were mulling stronger criticism. The report did not cite sources.

Israel has been careful in its comments on the conflict, and has avoided criticizing Moscow publicly. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.

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