Israel offers 'immediate humanitarian assistance' to Ukraine

Jerusalem pans Russian attack on Ukraine: ‘A grave violation of international order’

FM Lapid stresses Israel’s deep ties with both countries, concern for Jewish communities; urges Israeli citizens to depart; diplomats stationed at border crossings to help

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemns Russia's invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (Niv Musman/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemns Russia's invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (Niv Musman/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday morning, calling it “a grave violation of the international order.”

It was Jerusalem’s harshest and most direct condemnation of Moscow since the crisis in Eastern Europe began.

“Israel condemns the attack, and is ready and prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Ukraine,” he said during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

“Israel is a country that has experienced wars, and war is not the way to resolve conflicts.”

Israel did not notify Russia ahead of the condemnation, The Times of Israel has learned. Lapid was offered by ministry officials a statement that mentioned Russia and one that did not, and chose the more direct condemnation.

Israel’s previous statement on the burgeoning conflict on Wednesday had not mentioned Russia by name. Israel had so far been careful in its comments on the conflict, and had avoided criticizing Moscow publicly. This is believed to be at least partly due to its need to work with the Russian military presence in neighboring Syria.

Lapid on Thursday called for a return to the negotiating table, mediated by world powers.

“Israel has deep, long-lasting, and good relations with Russia and with Ukraine,” Lapid stressed. “There are tens of thousands of Israelis in both countries, and there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in both countries. Maintaining their security and safety is at the top of our agenda.”

Police and security personnel inspect the remains of a shell in a street in Kyiv on February 24, 2022 (Sergei Supinsky / AFP)

Lapid repeated his call for Israelis to leave Ukraine by land. The Foreign Ministry estimates that there are around 8,000 Israeli citizens still in the country, including 200 families in Uman near the grave of the Hassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. A number of Arab Israeli students also returned to Ukraine this week in order to take exams at their university in Kharkiv.

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.

“Our representatives are ready to receive you,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett added on Thursday afternoon.

Israel is currently operating under the assessment that there will be 5 million refugees from Ukraine amid the conflict, The Times of Israel has learned.

Bennett was holding consultations throughout the morning on the ongoing conflict. He was expected to lead a wider meeting on the issue later in the day.

In the meantime, Israel’s diplomats in Ukraine are continuing to work from their temporary office in the western city of Lviv, though there is a plan in place to evacuate to Poland if need be. Diplomats have done PCR tests in order to be ready for such a possibility.

On Wednesday the Foreign Ministry had expressed “concern” over the “serious escalation” but stopped short of naming Russia or condemning its actions.

It said Israel “supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine,” and once again expressed concern for Israeli citizens and the Jewish community in the affected regions.

A general view of the center in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

“Israel is ready and willing to immediately transfer humanitarian assistance to Ukraine according to its needs and is in contact with the Ukrainian authorities regarding the matter,” the statement said.

Earlier, Ukrainian diplomats said they were still waiting for Israel to weigh in after the US and European nations strongly condemned Russia for moving troops into Luhansk and Donetsk.

“We are waiting for any kind of official reaction from the Israeli side, because there is no reaction, nothing,” a spokeswoman at Ukraine’s embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel Wednesday morning. “We just really hope that they will do something that sounds the same as our Western allies.”

Despite its deep strategic relationship with the US, Israel maintains robust ties with Moscow, especially over military coordination in Syria.

Brodsky spoke to The Times of Israel from Israel’s temporary consular office in the western city of Lviv.

“We’ve officially started working, started receiving applications for Israelis who need consular assistance,” he said. “We are here, and we are planning to be here for the next, at least, a few days.”

“We don’t know how long we are going to stay,” he said.

Lapid instructed all embassy staff to make the move due to fears of an all-out Russian invasion that would target the Ukrainian capital. 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.

Other western nations, including the US and UK, moved their embassy staff to Lviv a week earlier.

Israeli diplomats are nearly done with plans for a potential evacuation of up to 200,000 Ukrainian Jews by air or land, said Brodsky.

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