General view of Kiev's Independence Square
General view of Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's recent unrest, Ukraine, on a mourning day Sunday, February 23, 2014. Photo by AP
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Responding to escalating unrest in their country, hundreds of Jews have been fleeing Ukraine since the start of year and heading to Israel.

Preliminary figures indicate that the pace picked up markedly in recent weeks with more than 250 new immigrants from Ukraine registered at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption since the beginning of April.

This sharp upturn, ministry officials said, could also be connected to the resumption of work last week at Israeli Foreign Ministry following a lengthy strike. Foreign Ministry staffers handle visa applications.

According to the figures, the number of new immigrants from Ukraine registered at the ministry in the first three months of the year totaled 557, an increase of 43 percent over the same period last year.

Bilana Shakhar, the director of immigrant services for Russian speakers at the Jewish Agency, told Haaretz that the numbers were up particularly in four main centers: Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Crimea, which was last month annexed by Russia. Immigration figures among Jews hailing from these four centers, she said, had tripled on average in the first quarter of the year.

Shakhar, who formerly served as the Jewish Agency emissary in Kiev, said that based on the number of Ukrainian Jews who have registered for flights to Israel this month, the upward trend appears to be continuing. The April figures indicate, she said, that Jews from Kiev, the capital, are now also leaving the country in growing numbers.

But she said it was difficult to predict how long this immigration wave would last.

In addition to an increase in the numbers of Jews leaving the country and registering for flights to Israel, Shakhar said an upward trend was also evident in the number seeking advice about immigration to Israel at Jewish Agency offices around Ukraine. Before they can be approved for immigration to Israel, candidates need to prove that they are Jewish according to the Law of Returning, meaning that they have at least one Jewish grandparent.

In recent years, an average of 2,000 Ukrainian Jews have immigrated to Israel annually.

The Jewish community of Ukraine is estimated to number today at about 200,000. Since the early 1990s, about 340,000 Ukrainian Jews have settled in Israel.