Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Monday visited the Israeli field hospital in western Ukraine, becoming the first cabinet member to enter the war-torn country since the start of the Russian invasion.
Horowitz thanked medical staff at the Kochav Meir hospital in Mostyska, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Lviv, for their “holy work” treating more than 2,000 women and children thus far, according to a statement from his office.
“Israel is the only country that has established such a facility within Ukraine. This is the real face of the Israeli health system,” he said.
He added that his visit sends a message of Israel’s “solidarity with Ukraine in the face of a brutal Russian invasion and in the face of the massacres and war crimes that are being uncovered these days across the country.”
Horowitz was apparently referring to the scenes that came out of Bucha over the weekend, after Russian forces retreated and Ukrainian authorities and journalists say they found scores of bodies in streets and evidence of mass graves, leading to charges of genocide.
The comment from Horowitz, head of the dovish Meretz party, was among the sharpest issued by Israeli officials regarding the killing of civilians in the suburbs of Kyiv, denting the government’s attempts to maintain positive ties with Moscow.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid similarly called it a war crime but didn’t explicitly say that it had been perpetrated by Russian troops. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that there were “mutual accusations” regarding what had taken place and that Israel must uphold both its values and its own interests amid the ongoing war.
“Israel stands with the Ukrainian people, and we will continue to extend help as part of our moral duty, and as part of the family of democratic nations,” Horowitz said.
The health minister also lauded the cooperation of the various medical agencies at Kochav Meir, thanking the staff for their willingness to leave their lives in Israel to enlist in the effort.
“You provide medical care here of the highest level, with great expertise and professionalism under really difficult conditions. Well done,” he said.
About 80 medical officials departed Israel on Saturday evening for Ukraine in order to relieve the hospital’s original medical staff.
Israeli and Ukrainian officials have vacillated between clashing and coordinating during the five weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, as Jerusalem walks a fine line trying to assist Kyiv without alienating Moscow. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided harshly criticizing Russia over its invasion of Ukraine while working to help broker talks between Moscow and Kyiv. Those efforts are believed to have come to a halt as Bennett’s attention has shifted to the recent terror wave in Israel.