Over 6,000 Ukrainians have moved to Israel since Russia invaded, double 2021’s total

Hundreds of new immigrants landing in Israel each day, with thousands more expected to arrive in coming weeks; government scrambling to find housing for them

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

Ukrainians who fled the fighting in Ukraine land at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ukrainians who fled the fighting in Ukraine land at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

More than 6,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Israel since Russia launched its invasion one month ago, roughly twice as many as in all of 2021, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry said Thursday.

According to the ministry, since the Russian offensive began on February 24, 8,238 people from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus have arrived in Israel, with more than 75 percent of them coming from Ukraine. As the government considers all of these immigrants from the former Soviet Union as fleeing humanitarian crises — the war in Ukraine and increased repression in Russia and Belarus — the ministry has taken to lumping all of them in one group for the purposes of its statistics.

“We are getting close to 10,000 new immigrants. Right now, it’s mostly young mothers, small children and men over the age of 60, including 120 Holocaust survivors. They are coming with nothing, just the clothes on their back and a small bag,” Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata told Army Radio in an interview Thursday.

According to estimates from both the government and the Jewish Agency, a semi-governmental organization that oversees immigration to Israel, tens of thousands of immigrants are expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months, overwhelmingly from Ukraine but also from Russia and Belarus, which are facing increased crackdowns by their governments as well as sanctions from abroad making life there more difficult.

“More and more immigrants arrive every day, and our immigration forecasts are coming true. We expect many more immigrants and are preparing for that. In addition to giving immediate aid to immigrants, we are working now on developing big programs in the fields of welfare, education, employment, housing and other aspects,” Tamano-Shata said in a statement Thursday.

This week, the Jewish Agency said it was significantly stepping up its immigration flights to tackle the growing refugee crisis on Ukraine’s borders.

When Russia first launched its invasion, a handful of immigration flights reached Israel each week. Beginning last week, it was at least one per day, bringing roughly 150 immigrants to Israel each time. More than 500 new immigrants arrived in Israel on Wednesday alone and another 400 were due to arrive Thursday, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry said.

In order to relieve the bottleneck forming in the countries neighboring Ukraine that have been taking in refugees, the government has been bringing over would-be immigrants who have reasonable claims for citizenship on tourist visas and then processing their requests in Israel.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Of the more than 8,000 new immigrants who have arrived in the past month, more than a quarter — 2,342 — have opted to spend their first few weeks in the country in hotel rooms rented by the government. The rest have arranged their own housing, many with relatives who already live in Israel.

In the coming weeks, however, as more and more people arrive and require places to sleep, those hotel rooms will likely no longer be available and the government will have to find alternative housing for the new immigrants, as those hotels are often booked by Jewish Israelis for the Passover holiday.

“It’s almost Passover, and hotels are businesses, private enterprises, and we’ll have to make reservations to ensure there won’t be a shortage of beds,” Tamano-Shata told the Knesset last week.

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