image Photo: Reuters

Israel to shelter 15,000 Ukrainians by month’s end

More than 1.7 million Ukrainians are estimated to have fled the 24 February Russian invasion, announced the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency yesterday, while thousands of others continue to leave daily.

By Erin Viner

Most of the refugees have sought refuge in Central Europe, with more than 1 million registered as having entered neighboring Poland on Sunday.

It is important to note that “Israel is the Western country without a land border with Ukraine that has absorbed the most Ukrainians per capita since the outbreak of fighting,” according to Jerusalem’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Israel, which has a population of just over 9.3 million, is bracing for a “very, very big wave” of immigration sparked by the conflict, she added, involving the acceptance of many of the 200,000 Ukrainians who are Jewish or have Jewish family links and over 600,000 Russians in the same categories.

In a statement TV7 obtained from the Interior Ministry, Shaked estimated that Israel is “en route” to accepting 15,000 Ukrainians by the end of March.

No country in the world, which does not have a visa exemption, has as broad a policy as Israel,” which is “already dealing with 26,000 Ukrainian nationals present in Israel, most of whom are here without a legal status,” stressed the Israeli Minister, pointing out that, “For example, in Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom, the policy is not to allow people to board a plane without a visa.”

Shaked said that the Israeli Interior Ministry will “formulate a clear policy in the coming days for a potential largescale absorption of Ukrainians, about 90% of whom are not considered Jewish and therefore “not eligible to be included under the Law of Return.”

“It needs to be said that Israel, contrary to all countries, is prepared for a very large wave, to absorb approximately 100,000 Jews and their extended family members who are eligible under the Law of Return, from both Ukraine and Russia. At the moment, Israel is uniquely ready to absorb and give citizenship to the most Ukrainian nationals in the world. There is no other country that absorbs and gives immediate citizenship. This is the very great challenge that awaits us vis-à-vis housing, employment and other areas. We need to focus and be prepared accordingly and deal with the number of humanitarian cases that we will decide on in the coming days,” she emphasized.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis. He travelled to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend, and has held multiple telephone conversations with both the Russian leader and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Yesterday the Israeli leader attended a meeting on the absorption of refugees chaired by Immigration (Aliyah) and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

“The implications of the war are reaching everywhere, to us as well. We in the State of Israel have absorbed, as of now, hundreds of refugees, some of them Jews, most of them not,” he remarked at the start of the session, according to a statement from his Foreign Media Advisor.

“The State of Israel is a refuge for Jews in distress. This is our purpose. The State of Israel has done this more than once in its history and we will carry out this sacred task this time as well,” he underscored.

Calling for the implementation of a more efficient ‘wartime bureaucracy,” Prime Minister Bennett outlined two key goals in carrying out “this historic mission:” the elimination of obstacles in reaching “Jews in distress”.. “in the field” without requiring them to apply for citizenship at various Israeli diplomatic missions, followed by integration of the refugees “in the best way possible” regarding “all aspects – housing, education, employment and other sectors,” so that they call their families and say ‘Come, come because it’s good here.’”

Meir Spiegler has been appointed as the Director of Israel’s National Task Force on the Integration of Aliyah from Ukraine, Russia and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Spiegler, 63, currently serves as Director General of the National Insurance Institute. He has previously served as Director General of the Jewish National Fund and Director General of the Religious Services Ministry.

In the framework of his new position, Spiegler will integrate government efforts on the absorption of new immigrants in coordination with all relevant government bodies.

While congratulating Spiegler “for joining the national effort and for his commitment to purpose and vision of the State of Israel as the home of the entire Jewish people,” Minister Tamano-Shata underscored that, “The difficult hour of the Jews of Ukraine is our time of testing. The expectation of aliyah of Jews and those included under the Law of Return from Ukraine and the neighboring countries, according to the experts, will reach tens and even hundreds of thousands. Their rapid and optimal integration requires an effort by all government ministries and aliyah elements. To this end, I am pleased that the Prime Minister and I have decided to establish a centralized control team to manage the operation, in coordination with the directives and the joint lead of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Aliyah and Integration Ministry.”

In tandem, Israel has already airlifted 100 tons of humanitarian aid while dozens of Israeli companies, organizations, and private individuals are currently offering wide-ranging assistance to to Ukrainians impacted by the war.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has also established the “Matat” Donation and Coordination Center to centralize an outpouring of help from Israeli civil society to the Ukrainian people.

According to an MFA statement, “Matat” will operate in parallel to the humanitarian assistance provided by Israel’s Mashav national aid agency.

Mashav is currently focused on four major aid efforts at the direction of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid:  to create a field hospital in coordination with the Ministry of Health and Sheba Hospital, maintain the ongoing transfer of humanitarian aid (with emphasis on medicine and medical equipment), provide six large generators to the hospital in Lviv, and establish refugee assistance centers at border crossings where Israeli representatives are operating (with an emphasis on provision of winter gear to refugees exiting Ukraine).

To reach out to the “Matat” center, please contact and include the type of donation or volunteering, relevant details on schedules and quantities, and contact information for coordination.