Israel pledges NIS 10 million in aid to Ukrainian Jews amid Russian onslaught

Diaspora Ministry says funds to go toward protecting Jewish institutions, helping refugees as situation in Ukraine deteriorates

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A police officer stands guard at a damaged residential building at Koshytsa Street, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, where a military shell allegedly hit, on February 25, 2022. (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)
A police officer stands guard at a damaged residential building at Koshytsa Street, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, where a military shell allegedly hit, on February 25, 2022. (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)

Israel allocated NIS 10 million ($3.07 million) in aid to Ukraine’s Jewish community on Friday as Russia’s military offensive against the country intensified, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry said.

“This decision comes from the unique mandate of the State of Israel, and in particular, its Diaspora Ministry, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, to support Jewish individuals and communities in harm’s way,” the ministry said in a statement.

Following months of tensions, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning, striking military and civilian sites throughout the country.

More than 130 Ukrainians — soldiers and civilians — were killed on the first day of fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday, as were an estimated 450 Russian soldiers, according to the British defense ministry.

Fighting continued on Friday as Russia reached the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which was hit by intense barrages of Russian rocket fire. Residents of the city, who were unable to flee, sought shelter in underground subway stations and basements.

“In recent weeks, [Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman] Shai and his team have been in ongoing contact with Jewish community leaders and partners in Israel and on the ground to monitor the evolving situation and evaluate needs. It’s become quite clear at this stage that both immediate and ongoing support are needed,” the ministry said.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shai first announced plans to send aid to the Ukrainian Jewish community on Thursday, but it was initially believed that it would take several days before the matter could be brought before the government for final approval.

However, as it became clear that the situation in the country was deteriorating rapidly, Shai gave the funding provisional approval, meaning various organizations working in Ukraine can begin spending that amount with the knowledge that the funding will eventually come, even though it will take at least several days for the NIS 10 million to be transferred to those groups, a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Due to the sensitive nature of this aid, the ministry would not reveal which organizations it was working through.

The ministry said the aid will come in four main forms: food and medicine; funding for security guards around Jewish centers to protect them from rioting and looting; helping refugees in widescale evacuations; and transporting people to safer areas.

“We are following developments in the area with great concern. Our hearts are with the Jewish people of Ukraine. We will continue to closely monitor the needs and developments in the field, and respond accordingly,” Shai said.

Rabbi Jonathan Markovitch, who has a congregation in Kyiv, said his primary concern was indeed security for his synagogue, where dozens of people had come to take shelter in the basement.

A private security firm he had initially hired pulled out at the last minute and others dramatically raised their fees out of his price range, he said on Thursday. Markovitch said armed guards were primarily needed to protect the building in the case of rioting, as occurred during the unrest in Kyiv in 2014, but that he also feared that the synagogue could be targeted by antisemites.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday was the culmination of months of threats and signaling as Moscow amassed troops on the borders. It was unclear what Russia’s plan was for Ukraine.

Ahead of the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Moscow was deploying its military along the border with Ukraine as a bulwark against Kyiv, which was growing closer to NATO, which Russia perceives as a threat, but later said it was for the “demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”

On Thursday evening, Putin said Russia “had no other way of proceeding” besides invading Ukraine. US officials on Thursday said Russia apparently had the intention of “decapitating the government and installing its own method of governance” in Kyiv.

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