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‘Save us!’: Hundreds of Israelis stuck in Ukraine call Foreign Ministry hotline

Jerusalem estimates some 8,000 Israelis are still inside war-torn country; ambassador describes difficulties for people trying to get out of the major cities

People from neighboring Ukraine rest at a train station that was turned into an accommodation center in Przemysl, Poland, on February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
People from neighboring Ukraine rest at a train station that was turned into an accommodation center in Przemysl, Poland, on February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Hundreds of Israelis stuck in Ukraine as the Russian army invaded have been calling the Foreign Ministry, in hopes of being rescued from the war-torn country.

“Why don’t you rescue us?,” “Save us!” some begged, an Israeli diplomat told the Ynet news site Thursday.

“There was a real panic on the phone. People were under tremendous pressure,” he said.

The Foreign Ministry estimated there were around 8,000 Israeli citizens still in the country, including 200 families in Uman near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

“We did not believe for a moment that such a thing would happen, even in the worst-case scenario,” Elisha Shlomi, a resident of Uman told Ynet. “Everyone is evacuating today. I cannot specify to which country,” he said Thursday.

A number of Arab Israeli students also returned to Ukraine prior to the invasion in order to take exams at a university in Kharkiv.

Illustrative: People seen in the city of Uman, in central Ukraine, on January 26, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Following Russia’s invasion, many areas of Ukraine have become isolated, with the country’s airspace completely clear of any flights, making travel by land the nearest western border crossing the only way out.

Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky (Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)

Over the first day of fighting, the Foreign Ministry’s situational room said it had received hundreds of calls from Israelis in the country asking for help or directions to leave.

Speaking with the Kan public broadcaster, Israel’s envoy to Kyiv Michael Brodsky said that officials are experiencing trouble getting people out.

“We are mostly having difficulties with the big cities, where people are unable to leave,” he said from the mission’s temporary new office in the western city of Lviv.

Flame and smoke rise from the debris of a private house in the aftermath of Russian shelling outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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.

Brodsky said that while many people were unable to leave Ukraine due to various constraints, he did note that others had “taken too lightly” the warnings Israel issued since the threat of invasion arose.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian authorities began the evacuation of civilians from Uman due to bombardment by Russian forces.

Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid earlier 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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