With smiling faces and tears in their eyes, 116 new immigrants arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday from Ukraine as part of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews’ Freedom Flight program.
Many came from war-torn zones bordering Russia, where violence between Russians and Ukrainians has caused thousands of Jews to flee. The olim who arrived have witnessed much violence, and those who lived away from the violence still felt its reverberations.
For this reason, the Freedom Flight program was created, airlifting 2,365 Jews to Israel since December 2014. Through the program, olim receive financial and bureaucratic assistance, as well as guidance before and after aliya, according to Ofer Dahan, the IFCJ’s director of aliya and absorption who accompanied Tuesday’s group from Kiev. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the IFCJ, said the program helps Ukrainian Jews make aliya “to rescue their physical bodies from peril, and to return them to the Jewish Homeland.”
Dmytro and Lyudmila Prokopochych and their four children, ranging in age from four to 18, were among the IFCJ’s new arrivals and can attest to being rescued from peril. Though not motivated to leave due to separatist violence, they had many other reasons.
Up until a few years ago, the family lived in Kiev, but then moved to a small village in order to care for an ailing grandmother. As Jews who know Russian, the Prokopochych’s oldest children were targeted with intense anti-Semitic and anti-Russian violence at school.
The eldest daughters, Mariya, almost 18, and Oleksandra, 15, both suffered injuries, including concussions, on numerous occasions while school authorities encouraged the incitement.
“The kids beat them at school in front of the teacher. The teacher herself also called them ‘separatists,’” Dmytro said.
On top of the violence, work was sparse and the family was subsisting on $50 a month from Dmytro’s job as a physical rehabilitation therapist and Lyudmila’s job as a car mechanic.
Reporting the school violence to police could have affected their jobs.
Standing with 2 modest carts of luggage, the family of six stood out in contrast to many of the others who arrived with huge piles of luggage – the IFCJ program charters its own flights to allow olim to be able to bring more items.
“This is everything we have,” Dmytro told The Jerusalem Post.
The family was happy to leave as soon as they heard of the Freedom Flight program. Both parents and children responded that they are looking forward to starting fresh in Israel and having a chance to “live in dignity.” They will be living in Haifa, where it will be easier for Dmytro to get re-certified in his profession.
Before their flight, the IFCJ helped the families pack and transport their belongings to the airport and provided preparation seminars on what to expect in Israel. During the first year of aliya, an IFCJ member helps them navigate bureaucracy, find jobs, enroll in school and even does home inspections to make sure families have all necessary appliances and furniture.
If not, the program makes sure they get it.
Dahan said he hopes this program will serve as a model on how to treat all people who decide to make aliya.