Israel helped citizens of Arab states with which it does not have relations reach Ukraine’s borders to leave the country in recent days, the Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday.
About 100 Israelis – mostly Israeli Arabs – studying in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine reached the border with Moldova on the west on Sunday after a 24-hour drive. The group was met there by Ambassador Joel Lion.
Some of the students asked to bring their friends, including citizens of countries with which Israel does not have relations, such as Lebanon and Syria, as well as Egyptians and Palestinians from east Jerusalem, who are legally residents of Israel.
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Ra’am, the Arab party in Israel’s governing coalition, has worked with the Islamic Movement to help dozens of Israeli students leave Ukraine over the border with Romania. They are expected to fly to Israel on Monday.
Israel plans to send 100 tons of medical aid and other equipment to help Ukrainian civilians under attack, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“In the next two days, a plane will reach Ukraine from Israel with 100 tons of humanitarian equipment for civilians who are also in the battle zone, and those who are trying to leave... who are outside of their homes in cold winter weather,” Bennett said.
The aid being sent includes water purification kits, medical equipment and medicines, tents, blankets, and sleeping bags.
“In the name of all citizens of Israel, I express hope that this conflict will be resolved before the war develops even more, and there will be much worse humanitarian ramifications than we can imagine,” Bennett said. “We are praying for the citizens of Ukraine and hope that additional bloodshed will be prevented.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked extended the tourist visas of Ukrainians in Israel for an additional 60 days, without any need to go to a government office for permission to lengthen their stay.
Earlier on Sunday, Foreign Ministry Director-General for Eurasia Gary Koren told KAN that the plane with humanitarian aid will depart from Israel for Poland on Monday.
Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky, said that 1,500-2,000 Israelis crossed the border from Ukraine to Poland over the previous three days. Koren estimated that there are about 6,000 Israelis left in Ukraine, but it is unclear how many of them want to stay. Men age 16-60 who also have Ukrainian citizenship could be forcibly conscripted.
“Jewish citizens of Ukraine also reached the border, and there is an increase in requests to immigrate to Israel,” Brodsky told KAN.
The Israeli Embassy in Ukraine has staff at the border 24 hours a day, the ambassador said. Israel shut down the embassy in Ukraine over the weekend, with the staff sleeping in Poland and crossing over to be near the border each day. The embassy had previously moved from Kyiv to Lviv.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reported on Sunday that 368,000 people have fled Ukraine in the last days, seeking shelter from the war that began on Thursday morning. More than 50% have exited through Poland, but the Foreign Ministry has staff on other borders.
Israel’s Ambassador to Romania, David Saranga, drove for eight hours on Friday to the Romanian border town of Siret, where he has been working with a team of four others to assist Israeli and Jewish evacuees.
“Until now a few hundred Israelis have crossed,” Saranga said in a phone conversation from Siret.
He had gone there to help a group of 150 Ukrainian Jewish orphans without documents traveling with a group of 250 other Jews out of Odessa.
“They had to go through side roads,” Saranga said, and the journey was difficult, so they have not yet arrived. “At the same time, we are helping other Israelis,” he said.
No other country is organized like Israel to help its citizens, noted Saranga, adding that he worked in coordination with teams from other embassies such as Germany and Great Britain
“Every case is very dramatic when someone is calling and saying they are five kilometers from the border and it takes 23 hours to cross,” Saranga said.
He recalled how Israel’s embassy in Romania on Thursday marked the 80th anniversary of the Struma disaster, in which 767 Romanian Jews fleeing the Nazis set sail on December 12, 1941, for mandatory Palestine, but were towed out to sea by Turkey on February 23, 1942, and abandoned. The ship was torpedoed the next day by a Soviet submarine. Only one passenger survived.
Now, Saranga said, there is a state of Israel that can help its citizens and all those who “belong to the Jewish community. This is our moral duty.”