One Year after War's Outbreak, Ukrainian, Russian Jews Still Finding Refuge in Israel
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CHISINAU, Moldova, TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – When war began last February in Ukraine, many Jewish people fled and immigrated to Israel. Although initial numbers have dropped, over the past year Jews continue to make their way home.
Since its founding, Israel has been a refuge for the Jewish people.
“I think in this last year everyone understood how much this is true, how much the State of Israel, even today, is a refuge – not just a refuge – an emergency refuge for Jews,” said Mark Dovev, who heads the Nativ office in Chisinau, Moldova. Nativ is the Israeli government office helping Jews from Ukraine and Moldova immigrate to Israel.
“At the beginning of the war, the people were really refugees. They lost their houses, their husbands, their wives, their children, and there was also a sense of displacement and loss. They escaped from there,” Dovev told CBN News.
During the first ten months of the war, close to 40,000 Russians and 15,000 Ukrainians came to Israel.
“In the beginning there [were] people that just went out from the fire. They saw the tanks; they saw the fires; they didn’t know what was going to happen. They were feeling everything is going to fall down and Ukraine will be Russian in five days and they just [ran] away,” said Benny Hadad, who heads the Immigration and Absorption Department of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
Hadad told CBN News that the IFCJ helped about 5,000 Ukrainian refugees make the trip from Moldova in the past year.
A year ago, they came with “one packet of documents, taking the kids in their hands, no clothes, nothing at all. We need to give them everything,” Hadad said. “This was the beginning.”
A year later they are still coming but things are different.
“They are not running away. They are bringing something. They [are] coming here with suitcase – one or two. They cannot sell the homes or the cars. They have no money, but they have their things with them. And they have some plan, where are we going to be in the beginning. They have some information,” Hadad added.
Still, it wasn’t an easy decision.
“I have two countries – one country of my parents, of my family, and one of my soul. It’s Israel and Ukraine,” Kateryna Razghonova, told CBN News the day before she left for Israel.
Kateryna, 22, stayed in Kyiv to finish her degree in chemistry from Kyiv National University. In February, she and her two cats, joined her parents and brother in Beersheba, Israel.
“It’s so painful because these two countries are in war. Israel is permanently in the war by decades and Ukraine historically too,” Kateryna said.
“On New Year’s Eve it was rocket missiles by Russians near our house. It was 100 meters. My university, my alma mater was bombed. It has no windows now. There’s no place to study to our students,” Kateryna added.
Olena Shevchenko is leaving the chaos of war in Kyiv to be with her children and grandchildren.
“This whole year I haven't been able to come to my senses. When you stand in your own home and all the walls and windows are shaking, and you don't understand what for, why this is happening,” an emotional Olena said.
“When our children, our neighbors in the village are dying, and you don't understand the reason for it, why is it so!?” Olena added.
For 76-year-old Lev Viknianskyi, it will be like a family reunion because his wife, son and daughter and their families are in Israel.
“It’s been a year since I saw them but before the war I’ve visited Israel 17 or 18 times. It’s my second country,” said Lev, who is from Odesa.
“I couldn’t leave what we have accumulated over the years. I needed to pass it on to somebody. We had a business. We had a home We had cars. We had everything to live comfortably and visit Israel five times a year,” Lev explained.
Kateryna, Olena and Lev were among 90 new immigrants and seven pets from Ukraine and Russia, who arrived in Israel recently on a flight from Chisinau, Moldova, chartered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
Some, like Yuliia Savchenko from Kyiv, couldn’t come earlier because they had sick loved ones in Ukraine.
“My father died earlier, then my grandpa was sick, bedridden. We wanted to go to Israel then, but the doctors told us that he wouldn’t survive the journey to get the medical treatment there. My mother left and we’re going,” Yuliia told CBN News.
Waiting at for their flight at the Chisinau airport some, like 75-year-old Volodymyr Klementiev, from Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, had mixed emotions.
“Well, I’m happy because I’ll see my family, my loved ones. My mother, my sister, my sons and granddaughters are there but at the same time it’s very sad for me,” Volodymyr said, “because my wife stayed in Ukraine. Her mother is old, she is not able to leave for now, and on the other hand my mother has been in Israel for 30 years already. She is almost 101.”
Some came from Russia, like Maria Bovina with her husband and their son from Moscow.
“We are very happy of course to visit the historical homeland of my husband, to show our son the land of his forefathers,” Maria told CBN News.
And then on a blustery day…they arrived home to Israel.
“I made my decision about Aliyah just 10 days ago and I'm here to support my son. He is a student in the Na’aleh program. And I'm happy to stay here and I hope in the future, I'll be able to pay Israel for support, for kindness,” Oksana Mitnitska from Kyiv told CBN News on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
“Tears of joy that I came to my children, to see them and that everything will go well here. I’m very happy that I made it here to my homeland,” said Svitlana Zhyvotkova, who came from Vinnitsa, Ukraine.
“I always feel good, especially when I came to my Land, the Land of my forefathers. That’s why I can’t feel bad,” Mikhail Berchan, from Anapa, Russia told CBN News.
It may not be easy for these newcomers here, but they have the assurance that they have come home as the Prophet Amos said, never to be uprooted again (Amos 9:15).
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