Kyiv is still holding out hope that Jerusalem will eventually provide weapons and supplies to aid in Ukraine’s battle against Russian forces, despite its disappointment in Israel's cautious approach to the war since Russia launched its invasion of the Eastern European nation last week.
Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon, Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk said that the question of weapons has been raised by Ukrainian officials on multiple occasions, most recently during a Friday phone call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
The issue has come up in calls “with all Western leaders supporting Ukraine, because we are in huge need of defensive weapons,” he said, adding that despite repeated Israeli refusals, they remain hopeful.
Beyond weapons, Ukraine has also requested helmets and protective vests, not only for military personnel but also civilians such as firefighters, paramedics and police, he added.
Recent reports suggested that Israel had previously turned down a Ukrainian request to buy Iron Dome batteries, but Korniychuk said that the system had “not been discussed,” explaining that “Russia uses completely different weapons from the Palestinians so Iron Dome would probably not help us.”
Israel has so far provided 100 tons of medical aid, yet the ambassador complained the “water purifiers and blankets” provided did not match the items on the wish list provided to Jerusalem. Discussions regarding the Ukrainian request for a field hospital and the possibility of treating wounded Ukrainians in Israel are still ongoing.
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Regarding the embassy’s recruitment of Israeli civilians as part of Zelenskyy’s initiative to recruit foreign volunteers to join the fight, the ambassador stated that Ukrainian citizens are legally “liable for conscription.”
“We don’t recognize second citizenships” so “I don't see anything wrong” with recruiting Israelis, he said.
And while he respects freedom of the press, Korniychuk said that he was disappointed that Israel was not following multiple European countries' decision to ban the domestic broadcast of Russian state-backed television channels, which he dubbed as propaganda.
The ambassador also slammed Israel for not allowing some Ukrainians into the country, stating that he was “disappointed yesterday by the decision of Interior Ministry that explained that they will not allow Ukrainian refugees to come to Israel.”
“According to my knowledge, tens of people were stopped and turned back and sent home from where they flew over the last six days,” he claimed.
While the skies over Ukraine are closed to air traffic, if a Ukrainian were to fly directly from his country to Tel Aviv he or she would be considered a refugee and would be allowed in, an Israeli official told Haaretz on Monday.
However, a displaced Ukrainian who has already been accepted into Poland and flies to Israel would no longer count as somebody seeking refuge.
On Sunday morning, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority announced it would not take action against Ukrainian nationals residing illegally in the country “pending clarification of the situation in their home country.”
The authority explained that the temporary policy of non-enforcement would apply to those who have not applied for political asylum as well as those who have.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said, meanwhile, that she would uniformly extend the visas of Ukrainian tourists here by two months.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Bennett offered Israel's services as a mediator to bring peace to Ukraine in a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.
Korniychuk responded that there can be no more negotiations in the Belarusian capital of Minsk where two previous ceasefire agreements between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists were signed, because his government no longer recognizes Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko as its legitimate leader.
“Belarusian troops just crossed the border today. How can we conduct negotiations in Minsk if that is where the threat is coming from? I believe sooner or later the issue of mediation will be important again, and we believe Jerusalem can be a good venue for that,” he said.
“Israel is the only civilized and democratic nation with good relations with both countries and both leaders and that could help Israel be a balanced mediator.”
On Monday, Israel also received rare criticism from one of its strongest supporters in Washington over its position on the war in Ukraine. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, on most days an ardent supporter of Israel, said that he also expects Israel to do more to support Ukraine.
Ukraine "asked Israel — no bigger fan of Israel than Lindsey Graham — for Stingers and apparently Israel said no," the senator said, referring to the U.S.-made anti-aircraft missiles. "So I'm going to get on the phone with Israel — you know, we stand up for Israel with the Iron Dome," Graham told Fox News.
Haaretz could not independently confirm if Ukraine has indeed requested Stinger missiles from Israel.
Graham visited Israel shortly after the May 2021 Gaza war, and was the first U.S. lawmaker to publicly endorse the $1 billion in emergency aid to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system.
"Putin is a thug. He's a war criminal. He's destroying a sovereign nation called Ukraine. And if we don't get Ukraine and Russia right, the Chinese are gonna move on Taiwan and the Iranians gonna break out for a bomb so it's in everybody's interest," the South Carolina senator added.
Graham visited Israel last month where he met with senior cabinet officials and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He was also briefed by Mossad officials on Iran's nuclear capabilities. Beyond the Iran angles of his visit, Graham also floated the idea of formalizing a mutual defense agreement that would cover "existential threats" to Israel — an idea that was publicly floated during the Trump administration but opposed by top Israeli defense officials.
The Senator's comments emphasized the difficulties Israel is starting to face in Washington as it tries to walk between the lines on Ukraine, and avoid a strong, full condemnation of Putin's attack on the country. As Russia's invasion becomes increasingly brutal, Israel's position is becoming increasingly out of sync with the international community — most notably its lack of support for last week's UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia's actions.