Israel and the Ukraine signed a free trade agreement on Monday, and also agreed to add another carrier to the air route between the two nations. The deal was penned in Israel by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Transport, Olexander Davydov.
Ayalon called the deal “an additional step in the strengthening of bilateral relations between Israel and the Ukraine,” adding it would “promote various channels of cooperation” between them.
Two carriers from each country currently operate on the route. El Al Israel Airlines and Arkia Airlines operate from Israel, and Aerosvit Airlines and Donbass Aero operate from the Ukraine.
Next on the list will be an effort to negotiate a visa abolition agreement, which Ayalon said would encourage tourism to both countries. According to Israel's Ministry of Tourism, there are half a million Israelis with family members living in the Ukraine.
Thousands of Breslov Chassidim from around the world make the pilgrimage each year to visit the grave of their deceased leader, Rabbi Nachman, whose tomb is located in the Ukrainian town of Uman. Many from Israel go as well, but the numbers would likely increase greatly with the easing of restrictions. In addition, Christian tourism from Ukraine to the Holy Land would probably also rise.
At present, a visa for an Israeli to visit the Ukraine costs a hefty $100 to $120, and the process can take weeks. Ukrainians pay less to visit Israel – just $20 – but their trek through the "Sea of Red Tape" is at least as long.
Davydov noted at the signing ceremony that “Many Ukrainian citizens await the agreement, and it presents a perfect opportunity to promote the relationship between the two countries.”
Avi Ben-Hur, Deputy Director of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority, added that further talks will be aimed at improving the agreement and adding new destinations in each country for additional carriers.