Daily Israel Report

Jews Make Aliyah Amid Ukraine Airport Battles

Jewish Agency rescues six Jewish immigrants to Israel, despite Ukrainian and pro-Russian clashes at Donetsk airport.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 5/27/2014, 6:29 PM

The Urina family from Donetsk
The Urina family from Donetsk
Jewish Agency representative Max Lurye

Six Jewish residents of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk were flown to Israel on Tuesday to make Aliyah (immigration), in a quick rescue operation headed by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian militants were battling over the Donetsk airport on Tuesday, with both sides making early announcements of victory. Pro-Russian rebels had taken the airport on Monday, after blocking locals the day before from participating in national presidential elections won by Petro Poroshenko, who placed putting down the rebels as his top priority.

Amid the clashes and chaos, the six immigrants, including a couple with two twin baby girls from Donetsk and another couple from the city of Mariupol south of Donetsk on the Black Sea coast, had been set to make Aliyah on Monday night.

The Jewish Agency's Russian-Speaking Jewry Unity decided to evacuate the six overland to Dnepropetrovsk to the west to stay at a local hotel until leaving for Israel. On Tuesday morning they flew to Kiev, and then on to the Jewish state, landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

"Jewish Agency representatives in Ukraine continue to be active in all areas and are prepared for any eventuality, as shown by this latest event in my own city of birth, Donetsk," remarked Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Donetsk has been the target of several anti-Semitic activities, with pamphlets calling for Jews to "register" being passed around in April, and a Jewish-owned bank in the city being targeted later in the month.

Sharansky added that "due to the current situation in the country, we have significantly expanded our activities, assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel, bringing young people to experience life in Israel on a variety of Jewish Agency programs, providing Hebrew classes, and so on."

Roughly 30,000 Jews live in the Donetsk region according to the Jewish Agency, with 11,000 of them residing in the city of Donetsk. The Jewish Agency is now gearing up to bring other families to Israel in a similar way if the airport remains insecure.

The first four months of 2014 witnessed a 142% rise in Aliyah from Ukraine, reports the Jewish Agency, as a total of 762 immigrants arrived from the country as opposed to 315 the previous year. The rate has increased over the course of those four months, with April recording a 295% increase.

Anti-Semitism has similarly been causing a sharp rise in Aliyah from France, where a 312% increase was witnessed in the first three months of 2014. The uptick has led to predictions that the year will set records for French Aliyah.

The Jewish Agency reports it has 90 staff members on the ground in Ukraine to assist Jews interested in making Aliyah.