As tensions mount, with some predicting an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, many Israelis are being evacuated from Ukraine. Government officials in the Education Ministry along with diplomats from across the country and many Chabad emissaries took off on an Ukrainian Airlines flight for Israel after being ordered to leave by the Israeli government. Others left on an El Al flight and were accommodated for the first ten days in hotels in Israel.
Prior to leaving, the Jewish Agency organized special transportation from the homes of Israelis in Ukraine to a hotel in Kyiv, where they were given detailed instructions and – to further emphasize the apparent urgency of their departure – coronavirus testing was waived before they boarded their flights.
Last week, the Jewish community in Podil (Kyiv) led by Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich left for the Shuva camp, around an hour from the capital, in order to distance themselves from the “front lines.”
Rabbi Binyamin Gutfarb, a member of the community, told Behadrey Haredim, “I would so much have liked to remain here with the community to encourage them – we don’t abandon our brothers who are wounded on the battlefield, after all – but I am a government employee and so I am obligated to leave with my family.”
Rabbi Gutfarb added that he was receiving thousands of messages expressing concern for his welfare. “We don’t feel any sense of panic here,” he added. “In fact, the local residents ask us to keep them up-to-date via Israeli news. This is a difficult time for us as Jews,” he said, quoting the Torah.
Sources have informed Behadrey Haredim that people who ordered seats on an Israir flight that was to have left Kyiv on Sunday evening were disappointed to learn that the flight was being postponed to the next morning due to low demand.
The Karlin-Stolin community in Kyiv was told by the Admor to leave the capital and head for Mezhibuzh, where they would stay under the heavenly protection of the Baal Shem Tov, who is buried there.
Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich penned a letter to community members, writing: “To all members of the holy community, first of all, I ask you to strengthen yourselves in faith and trust in G-d, and recall to mind that the Creator of the world controls everything that happens; only He is in charge and the One responsible for everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen.”
Bleich continued: “We are not panicking and we are in constant contact with the relevant officials in Ukraine and abroad. As of now, we are weighing various options for those who wish to leave Kyiv with their families and we are in the process of readying an alternative place to stay nearby, perhaps in the Shuva summer camp – and, G-d forbid if need be, we will stay there in the longer term as well. The most important thing now is to pray to G-d and ask for His mercy and that He grant us peace and not allow harm to come to anyone.”
In Uman, Jews with Israeli citizenship are being asked to return to Israel by Wednesday. Those with families who are able to leave with ease should do so; others who experience difficulties are asked to remain until the end of the week, to see how events develop. Arrangements are also being made for those who wish to leave for other European countries.
In Odessa, where institutions headed by Rabbi Bakst are located, government employees are leaving while those employed by the educational institutions are remaining.
As would be expected, group tours of both Israelis and Americans to Ukraine have been cancelled.