Israelis prepare aid packages, relief teams for Ukraine amid Russian onslaught

Both the government of Israel and private organizations plan to send assistance to Ukrainian Jews and to refugees fleeing to neighboring countries

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

Firefighters work on a fire on a building that was bombed by Russia in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)
Firefighters work on a fire on a building that was bombed by Russia in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv, on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

The Israeli government and a number of Israeli organizations began preparing to deliver aid and assistance to Ukraine in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion of the country, officials said Thursday.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said his ministry was specifically working to send an aid package to Jewish communities in Ukraine, totaling some 200,000 people.

“The State of Israel will always take care of Jews in danger wherever they may be. My ministry is preparing an aid package for Jewish communities in Ukraine and will assist them any way we can,” he said.

The exact nature and size of this aid package were still being determined, and the relatively large cost means it will require government approval, which is not likely to come before early next week.

The Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental outfit, and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews set up a number of hotlines to help Ukrainian Jews rapidly immigrate to Israel and to offer “general assistance for community members,” the organizations said.

Minister of Immigration and Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata on Thursday said her office was preparing for mass migration of Ukrainian Jews to Israel.

“In the last month, I directed my ministry to prepare for the event that we will have to absorb thousands of immigrants, all at once. Together with other ministries and the bodies that deal with Aliyah (immigration to Israel), we are ready to absorb thousands with housing, education, welfare and more,” she told a group of visiting American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

In addition to the aid to Ukraine from the State of Israel and the semi-official Jewish Agency, a number of non-governmental organizations were also sending aid teams to the country’s borders, where tens of thousands of people have flocked in recent days, attempting to leave the country to avoid the fighting.

The Israeli humanitarian aid organization SmartAID said it was shipping “pallets of emergency relief supplies” to the countries adjacent to Ukraine and was working to set up internet “hot spots” at major border crossings.

“The hot spots will also offer families who fled to use the internet so they can reach family back home and aid agencies in host countries,” the organization said. “The focus is on children and families in areas with the highest concentration of refugees.”

The ultra-Orthodox United Hatzalah rescue service said it was sending a delegation of 30 medical personnel to Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, where many Ukrainian refugees were heading. The Moldovan Jewish community also offered to take in Jews from Ukraine, including children from the Tikva orphanage in Odessa.

“The delegation includes paramedics and medics who are ready with medical and humanitarian equipment in order to provide aid to those crossing the border from Ukraine,” United Hatzalah Director-General Eli Polk said in a statement.

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, 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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