Ukraine reprimanded Israel’s ambassador to Kyiv Thursday to protest Jerusalem’s request to Moscow that it assist in evacuating citizens in the event of Russian invasion.
On Wednesday, the Axios news site reported that during a phone call with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz asked for Russia’s help in evacuating Israelis should troops move into Ukraine.
Kyiv, which has accused the West of overreacting to Russian threats by evacuating citizens and diplomats, was frustrated with the report and summoned Michael Brodsky to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry for an explanation, Israeli officials said.
“You are treating us like what? The Gaza Strip or something? It’s just nonsense,” a Ukrainian diplomatic source told the Haaretz news site ahead of the summoning. “The ambassador will be called to the ministry to give an explanation.”
According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat, Brodsky explained to his Ukrainian interlocutors that in the phone call Ushpiz was seeking to deescalate tensions with Bogdanov, who is also Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East. He said Ushpiz also sought to underscore Israel’s concern from its diplomats and citizens.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said only that the two “had a tough conversation.”
On Wednesday, Brodsky said that the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would remain on the table until at least the end of February. Despite Russian claims that it was pulling troops away from the border, officials in the US and NATO said Thursday that the military buildup was continuing.
On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry opened a consular office in the western Ukraine city of Lviv to serve Israelis in the event of an invasion, which would likely begin on the eastern or northern borders.
The Foreign Ministry has also drafted a contingency plan to evacuate Israelis by land via Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania, according to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Brodsky lamented what he described as the “complacency” of Israeli citizens in the country; despite pleas, only 3,064 have evacuated while some 10,000 remain.
“There might be a situation where no one will be able to be rescued from here, you might have to go to the west and cross the border to Poland or Romania,” he told The Times of Israel in a separate interview. “In this case, it means it’s already a state of emergency and the whole country will go to the west. It will be a nightmare.”
According to Israel’s embassy spokeswoman in Kyiv, 23 flights have left Ukraine for Israel this week. Another 7 are scheduled — 2 on Thursday, 3 on Friday, and 2 on Saturday, all operated by Ukrainian airlines.
Israel has warm relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and it has attempted to steer clear of displays that demonstrate clear favoritism for either side.