'After WWII, Israel found Jewish kids from around the world'

Help us get our kids back from Russia, urges senior Ukraine lawmaker visiting Israel

Deputy speaker of Kyiv’s parliament Olena Kondratiuk is leading a delegation stressing the need for Israeli expertise in early warning systems, shelters

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Deputy speaker of Ukraine's parliament  Olena Kondratiuk in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
Deputy speaker of Ukraine's parliament Olena Kondratiuk in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Ukraine is looking for Israel’s help in pressuring Moscow to release tens of thousands of Ukrainian children taken illegally from their homes to Russia, the deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“We really ask Israel to take on the issue of returning Ukrainian kids back home, the same way they treated their own Jewish kids after World War II,” said Olena Kondratiuk, who is in Jerusalem at the head of the first senior parliamentary delegation to visit Israel since Russia invaded the country in February of last year.

“Israel collected them from around the world.”

Kyiv alleges that some 20,000 children have been forcibly transferred from Ukraine during the 14-month-long war. Russia says that they were removed from war zones for their own safety.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights for deporting children.

According to Kondratiuk, the abducted children were the focus of her meeting with Yifat Shasha-Biton, her Israeli counterpart.

Kondratiuk, 52, is in Israel to meet officials from the Foreign Ministry, the Knesset Ukraine friendship group, and Ukrainians living in Israel.

Unlike other Ukrainian officials, she did not criticize Israel for its attempts to maintain a neutral stance during the war, and for refusing to send weapons to Kyiv.

Israel points to its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces could threaten Israeli pilots. Israel is one of the few Western countries that maintains relatively good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

She did stress that Israeli civilian defense measures are an immediate priority.

Israel is developing for Ukraine an alert system for incoming Russian strikes. Kondratiuk told The Times of Israel that it was tested in Kyiv on Monday.

Deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament Olena Kondratiuk meets Ukrainian refugees in Ashdod, May 1, 2023. (Olena Kondratiuk)

Unlike the Iron Dome system in place in Israel, the system set for deployment in Ukraine will feature alerts only, without interception capabilities. Ukraine had urged Jerusalem to supply it with missile interceptor capabilities, but Jerusalem has so far refused, as Israeli leaders seek to avoid overly antagonizing Russia.

“Our priority right now is the anti-missile system because it’s the number one cause of the deaths of civilians right now,” she explained.

She added that Ukraine is in need of Israeli expertise in developing its shelter network throughout the country.

“You can see that it’s crucial for us, especially considering the recent shelling of Uman,” she said, referring to Friday’s attack on the city, which contains a major Jewish pilgrimage site, that left 23 dead.

Mykhayl Shulha, center, cries next to the coffin of his sister Sofia Shulha during a funeral prayer in Uman, central Ukraine, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Kondratiuk’s eyes welled with tears as she pulled up the photos of the six children killed in the attack on her phone.

“It means that no one is secure from the possible attack from the national terror state. It is possible that this residential building could be rented by some of the [Jewish] pilgrims,” she raged, referring to an annual Jewish pilgrimage to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.

At the same time, Kondratiuk did point to some specific areas where she would like to see a change in Israeli policy.

She stressed that Israel not joining sanctions against Russia is a major area of concern.

She would also like to see Russian channels operating in Israel shut down, and dual Russian-Israeli nationals on such outlets banned from entering Israel.

Deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament Olena Kondratiuk (third from left) and her delegation meet with Ukrainian-born MKs Ze’ev Elkin (second from right) and Yuli Edelstein (fourth from right) in Jerusalem, May 2, 2023 (Embassy of Ukraine in Israel)

“It was a surprise for me,” she said, “that in Israel, Russian classical propaganda channels operate freely at the same time as they are prohibited in other parts of the world.”

After meeting Ukrainian refugees in Ashkelon and Ashdod on Monday, Kondratiuk said that more avenues of employment must be opened to them.

Last week, Interior Minister Moshe Arbel extended the visas of Ukrainian refugees who have been living in Israel, reportedly following pressure from the United States. The ministry also announced it would also not enforce work restrictions on Ukrainian nationals who have been in the country for at least 90 days.

Despite the relatively light critique, Kondratiuk praised Israel for supporting UN resolutions affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and rejecting Russian referenda in occupied Ukrainian areas.

“We would like to cooperate with Israel inside of the UN,” she said, especially against Russia and Iran.

She also displayed satisfaction with the direction of Israeli policy under the current government led by Benjamin Netanyahu: “We see that Israel’s position became more proactive.”

We would like to cooperate with Israel inside of the UN.

Kondratiuk and the two other lawmakers in her delegation met with Ashdod’s deputy mayor Shimon Katznelson, a Kyiv native, on Monday. They also toured rocket shelters in Ashkelon before meeting Foreign Ministry Director General Ronen Levy and other Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem.

“Israel is very similar to Ukraine, because both states are under military conditions right now,” she opined.

The group also spoke with Ukrainian soldiers undergoing rehabilitation in Israel.

On Tuesday, the group met with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, as well as leading Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Azman.

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