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Russia-Ukraine war: Israelis plan to fight alongside Ukrainians

Israeli ex-soldiers want to defend the country they emigrated from as Ukrainian Jews come under threat
A woman burns her Russian passport during a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv on 26 February 2022 (AFP)

Israeli ex-soldiers have reportedly decided to fight the Russian army alongside Ukrainian troops, wishing to defend the country they emigrated from.

News site Ynet spoke to two men who were born in Ukraine and emigrated to Israel in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sergei Novesky, a 38-year-old who served in the Israeli military, told Ynet, "I hope there will be peace, but if not, I have to defend my family," referring to his relatives in Ukraine.

Novesky, who came to Israel in 1998, is seen in the article carrying a Ukrainian flag while wearing the Israeli forces' uniform and leaning on a military vehicle.

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Russia attacked Ukraine on Thursday after building up nearly 200,000 troops on the border. Russian forces have attempted to take Kyiv and moved into various areas in the north, east and south, but the Ukrainian defences are putting up a strong fight.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, has been under a heavy Russian assault. The town close to the border with Russia is home to an estimated 75,000 Ukrainian Jews.

David Cherkasky, 20, a Jewish Ukrainian, told Ynet he and his father are prepared to fight against Russia and had enlisted in the Ukrainian forces.

"If there are Russians here in the city, we must take them captive, kill them," Cherkasky said, adding that the town where he lives in eastern Ukraine has a large Jewish community.

According to the Jewish Agency, more than 5,000 Ukrainian Jews have asked to emigrate to Israel "immediately" since the Russian-Ukrainian crisis intensified last week.

An estimated 200,000 Ukrainians are eligible to emigrate to Israel and would receive automatic citizenship under the Law of Return.

Over the weekend, thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the Russian invasion. They chanted "No to war" and "Yes to democratic Ukraine", sang the Ukrainian national anthem, and carried placards comparing the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

On Sunday, Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reportedly said in a private meeting that “Israel must be on the right side and condemn dictators who attack democracies", in reference to Putin.

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.

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