News Digest — 2/28/22

Ukrainian Israelis Plan To Join Conflict – Take Up Arms In Defense Of Ukraine

A Ukrainian-born former IDF soldier is gearing up to return to his birthplace in order to take up arms and stave off invading Russian troops – and he says he’s not the only Israeli considering such a move.

Sergei Nowitzki, a 38-year-old who served in the Israeli army and immigrated to the Jewish state at the age of 14, told Ynet that he can’t bear to watch the conflict in Ukraine from afar.

“It’s tough and I feel like crying,” he said.  “The whole world is afraid of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sends soldiers to kill children and civilians.  It makes me want to grab a weapon and volunteer to join the Ukrainian side.”

Nowitzki’s mother and grandmother live in Israel, but his father is in Ukraine, as is one of his children.

“I enlisted in the IDF willingly, and now I must try to protect my family in Ukraine,” he told Ynet.

“I love Israel, and whenever something happens here I join the reserves immediately.  Now there is a war in Ukraine, and I, along with other citizens of Israel who were born in Ukraine, ask the world, including Israel, to help.”

He added that he and other Ukrainian-born Israelis were waiting for governmental permits to transport military gear out of the country.

Once that permission is received, he said, they will travel to Ukraine to join the conflict.

“We will fly from Israel to Poland, and from there we will cross the Ukrainian-Polish border in a bus or on foot,” he said. 

“We still don’t know in which city we will be stationed, we will most likely get our orders as we cross the Ukrainian border.  If everything goes smoothly, I hope we can leave for Ukraine in the next 48 to 72 hours.”

His Ukrainian passport should help streamline the journey, though he hopes that the conflict is resolved soon.

“I hope we don’t have to fight and that a peace agreement will be reached, but if not, I will do what it takes to protect my relatives.”

Nowitzki’s interview with Ynet comes on the heels of a statement from Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky welcoming non-Ukrainian nationals to travel to the country and fight with the Ukrainian army.



Tel Aviv City Hall Lights Up In Colors Of Ukrainian Flag

Tel Aviv City Hall lit up yellow and blue on Sunday night (27th) in a show of solidarity with Ukraine currently under assault by Russian forces.

Yellow and blue are the national colors of the Eastern European nation and are displayed on the Ukrainian flag.

“Tonight we stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.  We hold you close to our hearts,” Tel Aviv-Yafo Mayor Ron Huldai said.

The Israeli coastal city joins other cities around the world lighting up iconic landmarks in solidarity with the people of Ukraine – including the Empire State Building in New York City, the London Eye, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.



Israel Moves Embassy From Ukraine To Poland, Helps Israelis Flee War Zone

Amid the fighting in Ukraine since the Russian attack several days ago, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced Saturday morning (26th) that it was moving its embassy in Ukraine to Poland.

“We want to express our thanks to Polish authorities for their assistance,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Dr. Yaakov Livne, the Israeli ambassador, departed Sunday (27th) for Warsaw.

“Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the Israeli embassy in Warsaw, headed by charge d’affaires Tal Yaalon, has worked in close cooperation with the Polish authorities in the effort to assist Israelis leaving Ukraine, and we would like to express our gratitude to the Polish authorities for this assistance,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

Some see this new development as a positive sign regarding Israel’s relationship with Poland which had deteriorated recently.

In June, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Political-Strategic Department summoned then Polish Ambassador to Israel Mark Magierowski to express Jerusalem’s “deep disappointment” with a new law passed that restricts the rights of Holocaust survivors to reclaim property seized by the country’s former communist regime.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law “immoral” and “a disgrace,” saying that its passage “would severely damage relations between the two countries.”

In response, Warsaw announced it would summon Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, charge d’ affaires in the Israeli embassy, over what they viewed as “intervening in the internal affairs of a foreign state.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday night (26th) the Jewish Agency  for Israel announced the opening of six aliyah (immigration to Israel) processing stations at Ukrainian border crossings with four countries, Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary.

These stations operated in conjunction with Nativ – an Israeli government liaison organization that maintained contact with Jews living in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War  – and will now assist Israel’s Foreign Ministry of Affairs with the large number of immigrants fleeing the Ukraine.

The decision to move the embassy to Poland will help Israeli citizens crossing the border from Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry said.



Report: Israel Readying For 10,000 Immigrants From Ukraine In Coming Weeks

Israel’s government estimates that around 10,000 Ukrainians will immigrate to Israel in the coming weeks, government officials told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday (27th).

The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption would not comment on the estimate, but responded saying, “The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption is prepared for the emergency immigration of Ukrainian Jews, and in view of the escalation in Ukraine, the ministry, headed by Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, is preparing all sectors to assist and absorb any Jew seeking to come to Israel.”

“In light of the drastic increase in applications for immigration from Ukraine and in view of the security situation in the region,” the ministry said that Tamano-Shata and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman agreed on providing additional budgets to actualize the emergency immigration operation from Ukraine.

The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption convened an emergency discussion last Thursday (24th) during which Tamano-Shata assembled an inter-ministerial team to remove bureaucratic hurdles for potential olim and to issue immigration visas digitally, in light of a drastic increase in applications.  This is in addition to reinforcements in the Absorption Division at Ben Gurion Airport and the cooperation with the IDF.

The Ministry concluded, “We call on the Jews of Ukraine to immigrate to Israel – your home.”

In the entire year of 2021, a total of 13,006 Jews made aliyah from Eastern Europe to Israel.  Therefore, 10,000 immigrants from Ukraine in one month is substantial and dramatic.

As revealed by the Jerusalem Post, Israel offers fleeing Jews from Ukraine free shelter and meals.  The Ukrainian Jews will be offered a stay in hotels for two weeks to one month – with the possibility for further extensions. 



Iranians Defy Khamenei, Protest Putin Outside Ukrainian Embassy

Reports and video footage on Saturday (26th) show a group of Iranians assembled outside of Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran urging the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s government in an audacious protest against the Islamic Republic’s full-throttled support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the Iranian regime’s ban of demonstrations against Putin the group of Iranians declared “Death to Putin” in what might be an unprecedented move by anti-Putin Iranians.

“Bravo to Iranian compatriots who gathered in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Tehran to show solidarity with victims of Putin’s aggression.  They reminded the world that Islamic President Ebrahim Raisi, a Putin protege, doesn’t  represent the views of our people.  Protesters behaved with dignity,” wrote Amit Taheri, a prominent Iranian journalist on Twitter.

The London-based Iran International news organization reported that the protest was launched on social media and some of the chants were “the Russian embassy is a den of spies,” “Putin murders, the stupid ones support,” “Long live Ukraine,” and “Long live peace.”

According to Iran International , “police began dispersing protesters a short while after they began to gather.  A woman is seen in one of the videos telling the police, “We hate you.”

In a telephone call with Putin Thursday (24th), Iran’s President Raisi delivered support to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Raisi said NATO has created “a source of tension” by encroaching on Russia, according to Iranian regime-controlled media.

The Iranian state-controlled Mehr News Agency reported that Raisi told Putin: “The continued expansion of NATO is a serious threat against the stability and security of independent countries in various regions of the world.”

Russia and Iran’s regime are allies in Syria where they united behind Syrian President Bashar Assad to stop a revolt against Assad’s government.



‘Fiddler On The Roof’ Shtetl Now Real-Life Refugee Town

The classic musical ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ introduced the fictional shtetl (Jewish hamlet) of Anatevka into popular culture.

Novelist Sholom Aleichem, who wrote the book on which the musical and later movie were based, modeled Anatevka after his childhood hometown of Boyarka, near Kiev.

But today, Anatevka is a very real place, and it’s currently serving as a safe haven for thousands of Ukrainian Jews hunkering down during the Russian invasion.

The town was established by members of the Chabad movement in 2014 to provide emergency shelter and aid to Ukrainian Jews fleeing Russia’s military incursion at the time.

The decision to name the outpost Anatevka was made as a nod to the setting of the iconic story.

Since widespread fighting broke out across Ukraine last week, thousands of Jews have poured into Anatevka, which is some 16 miles southwest of Kiev.

Ukraine Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman recently announced that Anatevka will provide food and shelter to any Jews seeking refuge from the conflict.

“This is a refugee village inhabited by thousands of Jews who fled Kiev and the surrounding area.  There are elderly Jews, men and women and many children,” Rabbi Azman’s son, Shmeul, told Hebrew-language media.

“We are close to Kiev, but here the Jews are more protected.  We give everyone who comes a place to stay, food, drink and other necessities.  More and more Jews are coming all the time.”

Although the situation in Anatevka is relatively calm for now, Azman described chilling scenes of blackouts and explosions that were reminiscent of World War II.

“This Shabbat was not easy at all.  At the moment we are not allowed to turn on lights and the road to the bunker is not lit [due to the government curfew].  Everything here is dark because there are a lot of alerts and there are a lot of explosions during the night.”

“On Friday night (25th), there were a lot of loud explosions.  We put cellophane tape on all the windows so that they would not shatter because of the explosions,” added Azman.