Around 75 immigrants from Ukraine landed in Israel on Sunday on a prearranged flight, organized by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the Jewish Agency, and the Aliyah & Absorption Ministry. Ministry officials were at Ben Gurion Airport to welcome them.
A further 22 immigrants are expected to arrive on Sunday evening from the Ukrainian port city of Odessa.
The average age of those arriving in Israel is 40. 21 of the immigrants are under the age of 18; 46 are between the ages of 18 and 45; 20 are between 45 and 60; 19 are between the ages of 61 and 80. The oldest Ukrainian to arrive in the group is a 81-year-old man.
Over half of the new arrivals have expressed a preference to settle in the north of Israel; they will be divided among the cities of Haifa and its suburbs (30 immigrants), Nahariya (15), Akko, Karmiel, Nof Hagalil, and Tzfat.
Just 35 of the new immigrants asked to be settled in the center of the country. 8 are to be sent to Netanya and the others will be divided between the cities of Petah Tikva, Bat Yam, Holon, Lod, Ramat Gan, Ramle, Rishon Lezion, and Tel Aviv.
17 immigrants will be settled in the south, with 9 going to Ashkelon and the others settling in Arad, Ashdod, Dimona, and Ofakim.
"Our message to the Jews of Ukraine is clear," said Absorption Minister Penina Tamano-Shatta. "Israel will always be your home; our gates are open to you in normal times and also in times of emergency. We are delighted to be welcoming dozens of immigrants from Ukraine today, and we are ready to absorb thousands of immigrants - anyone who wants to come to Israel.
"We have prepared meticulously for your arrival," she added, "and every official working in the Aliyah department is waiting for you with open arms. I have ordered all relevant officials to cooperate in order to be ready for any eventuality, including a huge influx of immigrants."
Yael Eckstein, president of the IFCJ, added, "We and our partners continue to work together in order to bring immigrants at all times. The arrival of immigrants in Israel is an event of great significance for Zionism and for our sense of mutual responsibility as Jews. Together with the Absorption Minister we will ensure that each immigrant receives the assistance they need to successfully integrate into Israeli society."
Jewish Agency head Yaakov Hagoel added, "I welcome you all to the State of Israel, the national home of the Jewish people. You have arrived in the land of your ancestors and now it will become your own home, as you become new links in the chain of generations. We wish you all a speedy acclimatization into Israeli society and we have faith in your ability to make a significant contribution to the development of the State, a State that welcomes you today with open arms and with brotherly love."
"We were terrified in Ukraine"
Jana Koblenko, aged 27, and her husband Yevgeny, aged 28, arrived in Israel from Kyiv together with their daughter. "It's scary to be in Ukraine right now," Jana related. "Everyone talks about nothing but war. We were afraid right up to the last minute that the flight would be cancelled due to the situation." Jana's family - her parents, grandparents, and younger brother - immigrated to Israel before the COVID pandemic began. When their daughter was diagnosed with asthma, Yevgeny and Jana realized that moving to Israel was the right decision for them, too. The little girl had remained at home almost all the time in Kyiv, meaning that Jana had to stay home to look after her.
"We believe that in Israel, we will get medical assistance," they said. "They have good doctors here, and the government helps out with the costs." Jana's family immigrated to Israel with the help of the IFCJ; now it's her turn. "Members of the IFCJ helped out with everything," she related. "They gave us such a calm, confident feeling, and now we're delighted to have the opportunity to come to Israel too."
Anzour Shoufan and his wife Ilana, both 40 years of age, arrived in Israel with the 12-year-old son, Ilya, from the city of Kharkov. Anzour was once a successful businessman but since the recession that hit Ukraine in 2014, he fell on hard times and needed financial assistance from his family to survive. Recent events in Ukraine provided the necessary impetus for him to finally make the decision to move to Israel. His 20-year-old daughter plans to join the family after completing her studies.
"We visited Israel around a decade ago," Anzour related, "and we saw that there are good people here. It was around Purim time and the atmosphere was so happy, with special attention for children. Israel is a modern country with skyscrapers, shopping malls, and everything so well organized.
"My great-grandfather was the rabbi of his community in Georgia," he added. "I grew up with my mother and brother in Kharkov, after my father left for Israel for religious reasons. Our connection to the IFCJ has made things very convenient. They made sure we had all the information we needed, and now we're really excited at being reunited with our family members here. Ilya is really into programming, and he's looking forward to the transition as he knows how advanced the field is in Israel."
Despite the difficulties caused by COVID restrictions and the global economic slowdown, the IFCJ together with the Absorption Ministry succeeded in bringing around 28 thousand Jews to Israel in 2021, including around 3,000 from Ukraine. In the last decade, over 51 thousand Ukrainians immigrated to Israel.