Jewish Agency Gearing Up for Massive Wave of Ukraine Aliyah Amid Russia Fighting

The agency has received some 5,000 requests to immigrate to Israel, with the first bus of Ukrainian olim already having crossed over into Poland

Sam Sokol
Sam Sokol
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Women fleeing from Ukraine wait near a refugee shelter, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Tiszabecs, Hungary, on Wednesday.
Women fleeing from Ukraine wait near a refugee shelter, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Tiszabecs, Hungary, on Wednesday.Credit: BERNADETT SZABO/ REUTERS
Sam Sokol
Sam Sokol

Up to ten thousand Ukrainian immigrants could arrive in Israel in the near future, and that would only be the first wave of refugees streaming into the country, the head of the Jewish Agency’s regional director for the former Soviet Union said on Wednesday.

Speaking with reporters, Roman Polonsky said that since opening an emergency hotline last Thursday, the agency has received more than 7,000 calls, 5,000 of which were by people inquiring about the possibility of moving to Israel.

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“Our initial estimate was that the first wave of aliyah would be approximately three thousand people and now think it could be much higher, maybe ten thousand olim,” he said, using the Hebrew phrase for new immigrants to Israel.

Last Thursday’s invasion marks the remarkable escalation since Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula and orchestrated an insurgency in the eastern Donbas region in 2014 that has claimed more than 14,000 lives. A massive wave of Ukrainian immigration to Israel followed, with 30,000 Ukrainian Jews moving to Israel between 2014 and 2018.

In response to the latest invasion by Russian forces, the Jewish Agency has deployed emissaries to the Polish, Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian borders to assist Jewish refugees who wish to move to Israel.

Polonsky’s comments echoed those of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who on Sunday said that Jerusalem had decided to open welcome stations to Israelis and Jews at the border crossings with Ukraine, and to provide them with initial assistance in cooperation with the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'Nefesh, including food, medical treatment, and consular assistance.

The agency remains in touch with different community leaders and rabbis across Ukraine and is currently assisting them to “organize buses to the border,” Polonsky said, where they are met by agency staffers who help them with documentation, accommodations, clothing, medical care and psychological counseling.

“We have given satellite phones to communities and to our emissaries” in case of a breakdown in communications, he said.

While the agency is working with the government to get visas for those who want to come, “at this stage it doesn’t matter” if refugees fleeing the fighting are interested in immigrating to Israel, he said, explaining that “they are Jews. If they want to stay we provide help with no connection to the desire to make aliyah.”

Beyond that, he added, the agency has opened up a $1.5 million security fund to bolster the resilience of local communities in case of looting or vandalism.

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