'I Thought It Would Be Okay, Not a War': Israelis on the Ukrainian Border Feel Shock, Fear

Irina managed to flee Kyiv before the attacks intensified; Arik regrets that he left behind a grandmother who refused to leave; Rafael tried but failed to catch a train. Israelis leaving for Poland recount their experience of Russia's invasion

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Israelis evacuating from Ukraine, Tuesday.
Israelis evacuating from Ukraine, Tuesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yarden Michaeli
Tomer Appelbaum
Yarden Michaeli
Tomer Appelbaum

LVIV – Israel’s Foreign Ministry evacuated on Tuesday a few dozen Israelis from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to the Polish border, as an exodus of refugees continued to leave the country a week into Russia's invasion.

The bus that took them left Tuesday afternoon for Krakovets on the Polish border, 70 kilometers away.

Some of the group are of Russian or Ukrainian origin, the others Israelis who were on holiday in Ukraine when the fighting began. All of them were trapped in the country when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion last Thursday.

Irina, one of the evacuees, says she had arrived from Kyiv four days earlier. “We waited to leave in order to avoid standing in all those lines,” she said about the waits at border crossings, which can last up to three days. Irina says she didn’t want to leave Kyiv, but her husband convinced her to pack her bags and go.

Israelis waiting to be evacuated from Lviv, Tuesday.

She says she managed to leave the city before the Russian attacks grew serious. In one attack, she noted, at least five people were killed when the TV tower in the center of the city was destroyed.

Irina says she originally hailed from Moscow and that the war created tensions between her and the rest of her family. “Some of my family in Moscow side with Putin,” she says. “I can’t talk to my father. He laughs and says it’s fake news – that it's ridiculous and there’s really no war at all.”

Another evacuee, Arik Alexandrovich from Be’er Sheva, accompanied by his mother, says he came to Ukraine to visit his grandparents.

“I thought it would be okay, that there’d be negotiations, not a war,” he explains. “It’s scary. You hear sirens. There’s a curfew. At night, you try to avoid turning on lights, you close the curtains and stay inside. We’ve grown used to this in Israel, but who would have expected that it in a place like this – a place we’ve been flying to constantly for almost four or five years – would suddenly be at war. You can’t get used to it. I still regret leaving grandma and grandpa behind, but they wouldn’t agree to come. They wanted to stay.”

Israelis being evacuated from Lviv, Tuesday.

Rafael Petushki was among those who took the bus ride arranged by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Ukrainian delegation. Petushki, originally from Kyiv, lived in Israel for several years but returned to work in Kyiv. “My whole family is in Beit Shemesh,” he says.

As to his efforts to leave Ukraine, Petushki says he had tried and failed to cross the border by railroad. “Now I’m trying a different way. Of course, I’m not happy about the situation,” he says.

So far, more than 500,000 people have sought to flee Ukraine, most of them crossing the border into Poland. Border crossings are heavily crowded with refugees.

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