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Hundreds of Israelis flee Ukraine by land, as Lapid orders to keep embassy in Lviv

Three buses take people from Lviv to Poland, as embassy staff instruct thousands of citizens by phone on how to get out of Ukraine

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israelis leaving Ukraine next an embassy bus evacuating citizens from Lviv to Poland. (Courtesy: Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)
Israelis leaving Ukraine next an embassy bus evacuating citizens from Lviv to Poland. (Courtesy: Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)

Around 500 Israelis evacuated Ukraine by land on Thursday, according to a statement put out by the Foreign Ministry on Friday morning.

The embassy, currently stationed in Lviv, organized three buses that took Israelis from Lviv to Poland on Thursday.

According to the ministry, its staff in Lviv is in touch with thousands of Israelis in Ukraine by phone and is giving them instructions on how to reach the western land border crossings, where Israeli diplomats from the neighboring countries are stationed.

In the last two weeks, more than 8,880 people still in the country registered with the embassy in Ukraine, which includes 5,840 Israeli citizens and more than 3,000 close family members who do not have citizenship.

In addition, over 4,300 Israelis flew back before Ukraine’s skies were closed.

Israelis leaving Ukraine for Israel, even if flying back through a third country, do not have to do PCR tests before flying.

Israelis leaving Ukraine next to an embassy bus evacuating citizens from Lviv to Poland. (Courtesy: Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)

During a situational assessment Friday morning, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid decided that Israeli diplomats working in Lviv should remain in the western Ukrainian city and should not be evacuated, a spokesperson for Lapid said.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry decided to move all its staff from Kyiv to Lviv. They set up shop in an office building owned by Israel’s honorary consul in Ukraine, the same building Israel temporarily opens around Rosh Hashanah to help deal with the thousands of Israeli pilgrims making their way to the Ukrainian city of Uman.

An officer of Poland’s Border Guard directs the traffic of cars coming in from neighboring Ukraine at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, on Feb. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The situational assessment comes after air raid sirens went off in Lviv on Friday morning and amid expectations that Russian forces would push into western parts of the country.

Foreign Ministry director Alon Ushpiz said on Twitter that Israel still had a role to play in the country helping citizens leave, commenting on a news story about the evacuations, saying: “That’s exactly why we’re there.”

Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid on Thursday repeated calls for Israelis to leave Ukraine by land.

Israel has called on citizens to evacuate through western border crossings. It has stationed representatives at border crossings into Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania in order to assist Israelis leaving Ukraine. Representatives are also being sent to a Moldova crossing.

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