The horrendous Russian attack on Ukraine continues…
I remain focused on what is going on in that part of the world and how it impinges upon Israel and Jews.
Many of the images we are seeing evoke a very uneasy sense of déjà vu: It’s almost as if we are going back in time, in more ways than one. And I think this is one of the many reasons this is all so frightening.
“Roni Shabtai, the Israeli consul in Romania, on Tuesday night helped a group of about 100 Jewish children from an orphanage in the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr to cross the border into Romania.
“The orphans traveled by bus from Zhytomyr, a distance of almost 430 miles. The journey took two days due to numerous forced stops…The children will stay in the city of Cluj-Napoca in northwestern Romania––the unofficial capital of Transylvania––and from there continue to Israel.”
The image of Jewish children being spirited out of a place of danger to safety evokes efforts to save other Jewish children during the Shoah. The evocation is powerful.
But, in the end – in spite of the similarities – there is actually a world of difference: These children will be brought to safety in Israel. For the Jewish people, Israel makes all of the difference.
I wrote last about lessons to be learned from this war, and this is a big one: We must remain strong.
In cooperation with the Foreign Ministry of Israel, the Jewish Agency of Israel has opened six immigration processing stations along the Ukrainian border in Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova. They provide immediate assistance to those who wish to move to Israel.
An estimated 200,000 Ukrainians are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, although there is no expectation that anything near that number want to come. To date, 5,000 requests for Aliyah have been received and many more are anticipated. (See more on this below.)
The number of requests would be higher, but many cannot make it out of the country. An emergency regulation has been established by the Ukrainian government that prohibits male citizens aged 18-60 from leaving the country.
Once Ukrainian Jews make it to Israel, the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, headed by Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, takes over to provide them with temporary housing and other assistance.
For the Jews still in Ukraine and unable to flee, the situation is dire.
There is, for example, Odessa, which has a very substantial Jewish connection. Those Jews who were able to flee the city have done so in recent days. Yet many are left behind. Among them are aged Holocaust survivors and 120 children being cared for in the Mishpacha orphanage.
Yes, more orphans, and these are hardly the only ones. Rabbi Avraham Wolf (pictured), Chabad emissary and chief rabbi of Odessa, and his wife are remaining to tend to the children and give support to others who remain in the city. I am seeing that Chabad does a great deal of work in Ukraine.
The over-riding question is how those left behind can be sustained in a situation that is growing worse by the day. Rabbi Wolf fears the anticipated siege. “There is going to be a shortage here – no supply. Everything is stopped…Before that, we…had quantities of water, quantities of flour, quantities of many basic foodstuffs, but these things are running out.”
When asked how they will manage, the rabbi and his wife respond, “We need miracles, we pray to Hashem…we cannot get up and take our eight children and say ‘I saved myself.’ There is no such thing. These are our children, and we are committed to them…” (Emphasis added)
A fund has been established to help sustain the Jews who remain in Odessa and the surrounding area of south Ukraine: to purchase medical gear, protective equipment, and basic necessities such as clothes and sleeping bags. Money is also needed to help stock emergency shelters with several tons of cereal, buckwheat, sugar, rice, flour, and other non-perishable staples. These donations will also help defray the costs of additional security personnel arriving from Israel to help protect the Jewish community.
I mention Chabad, here, working inside of Ukraine. Hatzalah Ukraine, established a few years ago by an Israeli, is another group working inside. This group was founded by Shlomo Rosilio (pictured), an Israeli; his wife and children have now gone to Israel, but he has stayed behind. The message coming from him, as from all the others, is one of dire circumstances that are expected to deteriorate further.
United Hatzalah, in Israel, sent teams to work at the border. They are now in Moldova helping people who have fled; they have set up an operation center within a synagogue in Kishinev and established a field hospital. IsraAid has joined them. Not only are there enormous physical needs to be met, there is also serious trauma to be treated.
There are, of course, other organizations hard at work providing assistance; I cannot begin to name them all. Israel has sent 100 tons of humanitarian equipment.
Recently, Ukrainian ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk complained during a press conference that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) had personally decided “not to allow Ukrainian refugees to come to Israel” and that his government was “disappointed” with this decision.
Shaked answered him promptly:
“As of this morning, 97 passengers from different countries around the world have arrived in Israel with a Ukrainian passport, of which only 2 have been refused.” One passenger came from Georgia with a “borrowed identity” and apparently not his own passport. The second case was of a person who came to Israel from Poland. Neither one was sent to Ukraine.
“We are ready for immigration,” Shaked further said. “Anyone who is Jewish or entitled under the Law of Return – my ministry together with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry will take care of that.”
And here a brief clarification – with more extensive discussion tabled for a future posting. The Law of Return allows anyone who has a Jewish parent or grandparent to become a citizen, along with his/her spouse and children.
Another 300 Ukrainian olim (immigrants) are expected on Sunday.
Today, Shaked said, “We think tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of immigrants will arrive from Russia, Ukraine, and former Soviet states.”
I believe that Ukrainians who do not qualify for citizenship, but have relatives in the country, will be permitted in for an interval of time, with bonds posted by those relatives to guarantee that they will leave.
And it is my understanding that even though Ukraine is not a member of the EU, there is an agreement with the EU that waives visa requirements and allows entry to Ukrainians. If this is the case, the fleeing Ukrainians are not refugees – they have some place to go. This is not a parallel to the situation of Jews during the Holocaust who found all doors closed.
And so, one other comment made by Ukrainian ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk (pictured) requires note here.
“I am trying to be diplomatic,” he said. “We definitely need more help, and we have received more help from other partners in the world than [from] Israel. But we hope that decisions will be taken and there will be more aid from Israel in the coming days…
“We believe that you remember the times of the Second World War, when Ukrainians were saving the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. Ukraine is in fourth place, with almost 4,000 people who have been called Righteous Among the Nations. And while we saved Jewish lives in that time, we are asking you to help the Ukrainians to overcome this tragedy now.” (Emphasis added)
I think Ambassador Korniychuk would have been very well advised to stop before making this final comment. Indeed, there were individual Ukrainians who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, and they have been recognized by Yad Vashem. But if truth is to be told, they had a reputation then of being vicious, working with the Nazis in the persecution and extermination of Jews.
This historical recollection echoes claims now by Putin that he is entering Ukraine to achieve “denazification” of the country.
In recent days, I have spent time communicating with persons more knowledgeable than I regarding this situation, and I am convinced that charges that Ukraine is a Nazi country today are fallacious. There has been a modification of identity in Ukraine, which has become a democracy. Ukrainians today are far more anti-Russian than anti-Jewish.
The fact that the Ukrainians elected a Jew, Volodymyr Zelensky, as president by a landslide three years ago tells us a good deal. And he was a widely popular entertainer before his election. He has never hid the fact that he is Jewish, refers to his grandfather who was murdered in the Holocaust. Two years ago he visited Israel.
What is more, there have been other officials elected in Ukraine who are Jewish. Between May and August 2019, Ukraine was the only country other than Israel to have both a Jewish head of government (Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman) and head of state (President Volodymyr Zelensky).
According to one analyst, who has roots in Hungary, Jews today are safer in east Europe than in west Europe. A substantial number of Israelis were there, though many, of course, now seek to get out.
I have nothing but the most enormous admiration for the courage and patriotism of Ukrainians today. Their morale and their fighting spirit are remarkable. They are in an incredibly difficult position and it is understandable that they seek the maximum in international support. When President Zelensky says no Jew in the world should remain quiet now, I agree with him. And here he is drawing that Shoah parallel.
Today Zelensky made comments that are painful, telling reporters: “We have a good relation really, but everything is tested at times like these, these tense times when you need a lot of support. I spoke to [Bennett], we have a diplomatic relationship, but I’m not feeling he is wrapped in our flag.”
This had the effect of making me want to weep. Israeli hearts are solidly with Zelensky, and I think he knows this. But Bennett, perhaps seeking that role as mediator, and perhaps mindful of the Russian presence in Syria, has not overtly criticized Russia by name. Neither has Israel agreed to send any military equipment, as some other nations have done, in addition to humanitarian equipment.
The bottom line here, which I have already written about, is that Israel is walking a tightrope. We are dependent upon Russian goodwill for us to continue to act against Iran as we must. To cross Russia too blatantly would be to generate a security risk for Israel.
And still, Foreign Minister Lapid, after struggling with this issue, in the end said that morality required that Israel join in the UN GA resolution condemning Russia.
Bennett has been attempting to effect some sort of mediation to bring the violence to a close. He has remained in touch with both leaders, and is urging movement in this direction from other world leaders. Ukraine must be saved: “Things are looking bad on the ground right now, but it’s important to understand that if world leaders don’t act quickly, it can get much worse… it’s not too late. It’s the responsibility of the major players in the world to get the two sides out of the battlefield and on to the negotiation table.” (Emphasis added)
In his press conference today, Zelensky said:
“The end of the world has come.
“If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes! If we are no more then — God forbid — Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next. Believe me.”
He called for direct talks with Putin, saying it was “the only way to stop this war.”
“We are not attacking Russia, and we do not plan to attack it. What do you want from us? Leave our land,” he said, addressing Putin.
“Sit down with me.”
And here I leave it, knowing how grim the situation is, knowing that Putin is both vicious and unstable, and yet recognizing that changes are yet possible.
I place huge blame for this situation at Biden’s feet, and will discuss this in my next posting. There is still much more to be said (including about the Serbs of my title).
Please, pray for Ukraine.
© Arlene from Israel website. https://www.arlenefromisrael.info/