Israel Urges Citizens to Leave Ukraine, U.S. Pulls Embassy Staff Over Russia Tensions

Airlines offer rescue flights after thousands of Israelis ask to leave Ukraine ■ U.S. warned Israeli officials that Russian forces could invade as early as Tuesday

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Protesters in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, against the potential escalation of tensions with Russia.
Protesters in central Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, against the potential escalation of tensions with Russia.Credit: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Israel's Foreign Ministry declared a state of emergency on Saturday in light of the threat of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine as the U.S. warned Israeli officials that Russian forces could invade as early as Tuesday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is now aiming to complete the evacuation of Israelis from the country as soon as possible, before the figfhting begins. His office has asked ministers to avoid public statements about the crisis as much as possible, and has provided them with talking points that they are asked to stick to.

Following a situation assessment meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, along with representatives of the Shin Bet security service, the National Security Council and other agencies and government ministries, Israel issued a strict travel warning urging all Israelis to leave Ukraine immediately.

The Foreign Ministry estimates that there are currently 15,000 Israelis in Ukraine, and at least 4,500 of them have responded to the request to register on the ministry's website so that they can be contacted in the event of a war.

Thousands have already submitted evacuations requests to the ministry as commercial flights have become increasingly rare, leading airline operator Arkia to announce on Saturday that two rescue flights would fly out from Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday.

Oz Berlovitch, Arkia's deputy CEO, said: "As there is more demand, the company will set up more flights. We are in contact with the Foreign Ministry and have opened a hotline for Israelis interested in returning home."

The hotline number is 03-6903712.

El Al airlines will also operate two rescue flights to and from Kyiv on Monday, and will continue to monitor the situation and respond with more flights as needed.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday he ordered the military to begin preparations to "assist in airlifting Israelis back to country," and other government agencies are looking into asking other private airlines to operate more rescue flights.

However, officials said Israel would like to avoid sending military aircraft due to concerns over how the optics of such a move in the midst of a potential military conflict.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ordered non-emergency embassy employees to leave the country immediately.

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv, this week.Credit: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Several countries have issued travel warnings over the past few days. Jordan called on its nationals to leave Ukraine in light of "current developments," according to the Foreign Ministry, and Turkey asked its citizens to avoid travel to eastern Ukraine.

An updated travel advisory said the State Department had ordered the departure of most employees at the embassy in Kyiv, adding to its call earlier this week for private U.S. citizens to leave Ukraine immediately.

A senior State Department official said the Biden administration would continue diplomatic efforts to "ensure that Ukraine does not become a war zone."

Foreign Minister Lapid also spoke with the Israeli ambassador to Kyiv on Saturday, and the ministry said it will reinforce the Kyiv embassy in order to provide emergency services. Families of Israeli representatives in Ukraine will be flown to Israel on Sunday.

The ministry said it anticipates an increase in immigration requests from Ukraine's nearly 200,000 strong Jewish community.

On Friday, the British Foreign Ministry said that British nationals in Ukraine should leave now while commercial means are still available. Austria, Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Canada have also issued travel warnings and advised citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

Australia, Japan and Canada began evacuating families of diplomats from the country on Friday. France in considering taking similar steps early next week.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in the U.S. continued to deny plans of invasion, with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov calling U.S. claims of an upcoming invasion a "propaganda campaign against our country."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin discussed security concerns in a phone call on Saturday, Interfax news agency reported citing the Russian army, ahead of talks between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin scheduled for next Saturday.

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