'From Here We Can Do a Lot More': Kyiv Chief Rabbi Lands in Israel to Lobby for Ukraine Aid

Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch says efforts are underway to evacuate Jews from Kyiv, as 150 Ukrainians with Israeli citizenship land in Tel Aviv

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch arrives in Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday.
Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch arrives in Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday.Credit: Emil Salman
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yonatan Markovitch landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, and pledged to lobby Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government to provide increased aid to Ukraine.

Markovitch, a former Israel Defense Forces officer-turned-Chabad chief rabbi, told Haaretz that he only intends to stay in Israel a few days and hopes to be able to return to Ukraine, although the deteriorating security situation has made such a prospect seem increasingly dim.

“The situation in Kyiv is a catastrophe. Explosions near residential buildings, near the train station, which is maybe 100 meters from where our son lives. It is very dangerous,” Markovitch told reporters outside the arrival hall at Ben-Gurion Airport, where dozens of teenagers sang and waved Israeli flags.

Most of the Jews, thank God, have already left," he said, adding that efforts are underway to help get those who have not to safety. "We are getting three buses out a day, and God willing we will succeed to evacuate all of them, with God’s help and the help of good people. We are sending food to Jews who cannot leave.”

Haaretz was unable to confirm Markovitch’s claim about the evacuation of his community. There are several organized Jewish communities in Kyiv as well as many unaffiliated Jews, and it is unlikely all or even most of them have left.

An arrival from Ukraine at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday. Credit: Emil Salman

A few members of his community are still stuck in Kyiv, “but every Jew in Kyiv is like all the world, and we have all the elderly people that cannot get out from Ukraine,” he said, including two women who are over 100 years old.

Markovitch, who is accompanied by his wife Elka, said that they took the trip to Israel because "from here we can do a lot more – not from Europe, not from Hungary or Romania." He pledged to “go and speak with whoever is needed that they will open the gates to bring more Jews to the land of Israel.”

He said, regarding Israel's refusal to fulfil Ukraine's requests for weapons and military supplies, that "they need to send help to Ukraine."

Speaking with reporters earlier this week, Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk said that Kyiv still held out hope that Jerusalem will provide weapons and supplies to aid in Ukraine’s battle against Russian forces. Kyiv has been disappointed by Israel's cautious approach to the war, which is motivated by a desire not to alienate Russia, with whom it maintains security coordination in Syria.

New arrivals from Ukraine embrace at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Thursday. Credit: Emil Salman

Before the Russian invasion began last Thursday, Markovitch had told Haaretz that he was preparing thousands of food packages for distribution – as well as people to lead in singing and dancing – and had set up possible refugee transit centers throughout the city. "We’re trying to find solutions not just for food but for people," Markovitch said at the time. "We’re preparing so people can be comfortable and to prevent panic.”

Aside from Markovitch, a flight of 150 refugees from Ukraine organized by the United Hatzalah arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, some of them dual Israeli-Ukrainian citizens and others new immigrants.

"We are bringing home approximately 150 Ukrainian refugees who have Israeli citizenship,” United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer said in a statement. He noted that it required travel and diplomatic coordination, as well as "an incredible amount of logistics… Our teams both in Israel and Moldova have been working around the clock on this operation in order to get everything ready. This will be one of our proudest moments as an organization.”

Up to 10,000 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 Jewish Agency’s regional director for the former Soviet Union said on Wednesday.

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