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Israel 'plans to evacuate thousands of Jews' from Ukraine if Russia invades the country

Unclear if proposed airlifting of an estimated 75,000 Ukrainian Jews would work during conflict
Ultra-Orthodox Jews return to Israel from Belarus and Ukraine at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, 21 September 2020 (AFP)

The Israeli government is mulling the possibility of evacuating Jewish communities from Ukraine if Russian troops invade the country.

Haaretz reported that a meeting was held between Ukrainian Jewish representatives and Israeli officials over the weekend to discuss an evacuation programme, in the event the eastern European country descended into chaotic fighting or full-blown war with Russia.

Numerous Jewish groups were involved in the talks along with top Israeli officials from the National Security Council, the prime minister’s office, the defence, transport, foreign, and diaspora ministries, and the Jewish Agency, discussing the level of threat Jewish communities could potentially face.

The Israeli government and Jewish groups have been in contact with the governments of Russia and Ukraine to ensure the safety of Jewish communities is granted.

Israel is also updating a plan it had devised during the Soviet era to emergency airlift Jews from eastern Europe. However, it is unclear if it would work during the days of the war, Haaretz said.

Fears of war

An estimated 75,000 Ukrainian Jews live in Kharkiv, close to the border with Russia, Odessa, on the Black Sea, and Dnipropetrovsk.

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Russia has amassed more than 100,000 soldiers along the borders with Ukraine, and the US has warned that Russia intends to invade the country.

Israel's Law of Return grants any Jew the right to emigrate to Israel, settle and become a citizen.

Jewish Ukrainians will be able to benefit from this law, Haaretz reported.

In 2014, Israel evacuated hundreds of Jews from Donbas, a region southeast of Ukraine, which Russian separatists currently control.

Also, in 2008, during the war between Russia and Georgia, Israel evacuated dozens of Jews from the town of Gori.

In the last years of the Soviet Union and its subsequent collapse, almost one million Jews emigrated to Israel between 1989 and 2000, mainly from Russia.