Moldova’s small Jewish community has announced that it has prepared a fleet of buses to evacuate Jews from neighboring Ukraine, in the wake of Thursday’s invasion by Russian forces.
In a statement, the community in the small former Soviet republic that lies to the southwest of Ukraine, said its chief rabbi, Pinchas Salzman, had “made extensive preparations” for a Russian offensive over the past several weeks “with the aim of absorbing thousands of Israelis and Jews fleeing the war zones in Ukraine.”
“As part of the deployment, we are ready with a fleet of buses to transport people from Ukraine to Moldova with food supplies, pre-rented hotels along with additional shelters to accommodate hundreds of people and emergency medical staff,” the community said.
Community members have been deployed to border crossings and the airport “to provide immediate emergency assistance to the refugees” and are in “constant contact with the Jewish communities in the Ukrainian cities located in the war zone,” it was noted.
Haaretz was unable to immediately confirm the community’s statement that it is coordinating its actions with the Israeli foreign and diaspora affairs ministries as well as with the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Asked about the statement, the Jewish Agency stated that “given the highly sensitive nature of the situation, we can neither deny nor confirm” coordination with the Moldovan Jewish community.
On a visit to Greece on Thursday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “We are of course concerned for the fate of the Jewish community in Ukraine, and we shall offer every possible humanitarian cooperation to the government of Ukraine in partnership with and together with other partners."
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On Thursday morning, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that it had dispatched Israeli representatives to a number of border crossings into countries on Ukraine’s western border to facilitate the departure of Israelis in Ukraine. The ministry said it would be posting a representative later in the day at the Planca crossing into Moldova.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on Thursday that Moldova would introduce a state of emergency and was ready to accept tens of thousands of people coming in from neighboring Ukraine.
Immediately prior to Thursday’s escalation in the long-simmering Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Ukrainian Jewish leaders expressed concern not only that their community’s members could be displaced by renewed fighting, but that the Kremlin might attempt to use antisemitic provocations to delegitimize their country.
Speaking to Haaretz from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro on Tuesday, Rabbi Meir Stambler, the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, said he was more concerned about the possibility of antisemitic provocations by Russian agents than a full-scale war.
“We were never concerned about security, but now we are worried that the situation might change, so that’s why we are working on safety precautions for all the rabbis, communities, schools and synagogues,” he told Haaretz prior to the invasion. “They want to [accuse] Ukrainians of being antisemites or fascists.”
Russian media was filled with false reports of anti-Jewish persecution during the early days of the conflict in 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that the “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and antisemitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine” might necessitate a military intervention and with Jewish leaders in turn accusing the Kremlin of staging antisemitic incidents for propaganda purposes. More recently, top Russian officials have accused Ukraine of carrying out a “genocide” in the two breakaway separatist enclaves in the east of the country.
Speaking with Haaretz on Tuesday, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich said that while Ukraine is much better armed and prepared than when the conflict with Russian broke out in 2014, a serious escalation could see a new wave of refugees fleeing the fighting.
“In the Jewish community we have contingency plans to accept refugees in the west if people need to leave. Our community is preparing a large complex in Zhytomyr, 100 kilometers [60 miles] west of Kyiv, for people who may want to evacuate voluntarily and in case we have refugees from the east,” he said. “We didn’t have that in 2014. We weren’t ready for it.”
Thursday’s invasion marks the largest 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.
Reuters contributed to this report.