Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Korniychuk Yevgen said that the fact that there are hundreds of percent more new immigrants from Russia, as opposed to Ukraine, emphasizes that “Ukranian Jews see Ukraine as their home,” as opposed to Russian Jews that “left Russia for Israel for good because they were escaping the regime.”
The ambassador spoke at a special meeting in the Knesset, led by Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, in honor of the Jewish Diaspora Week and a year since the war broke out.
Yevgen said that he met with Israel’s Population Authority a week ago, “I learned that the new immigrants that came from Ukraine are almost four times less than those who came from Russia during the same time.”
According to Yevgen, this “proves that the Jewish community in Ukraine consider Ukraine as their own country and are willing to defend their own country; their own communities, and stay with their own people.” Yevgen explained that these Ukrainian Jews “have returned to Ukraine even during these very difficult times, under attacks of bombs.”
The ambassador has also asked to commend the Rabbis of Ukraine, by saying that “these Rabbis stayed with their community and appreciate their huge aid towards the Jewish community and the general Ukrainian community as well.”
“The Jewish community in Ukraine considers Ukraine as their own country and are willing to defend their own country; their own communities, and stay with their own people.”Korniychuk Yevgen
Both countries have nearly the same amount of Jews
Russia and Ukraine have almost the same amount of Jews, according to the ambassador, even though the demographers in the Jewish world claim that Russia’s Jewish community is about twice the size of the Ukrainian Jewish community. Yevgen explained that “the people left Russia for Israel for good because they were escaping the regime. The Jews from Ukraine have been staying in their communities mainly and considering Ukraine as their own home. This is a difference,” he said.
He also thanked the current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that even though it is just a few months old, he asked to “mention the activities of the current government which is great.” He mentioned the visit of the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Yuli Edelstein as well as MKs who visited the country.
He added that he is “very grateful that for the first time ever in the Israeli Knesset, we are having such a substantial gathering on such an important issue.”
Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister's comments
Chikli said at the beginning of the event “as Diaspora Affairs Minister, I see huge responsibility to lead this movement and to give it the utmost respect and attention required.
“This is also an opportunity to especially thank and cherish the various organizations and bodies operating in the field, under particularly difficult war conditions. We are here to tell them - the State of Israel stands with you and by your side.”
Dr. Shuki Friedman, Vice President at the Jewish People Policy Institute, gave a brief update on the Ukrainian Jewish community. “The estimates are of about 45,000 to 50,000 Jews,” he said. According to Friedman, there are 200,000 Ukrainians who can qualify to immigrate to Israel according to the Law of Return.
According to Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, the rabbi of Dnipro and Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, the number of Jews in the country is actually larger. “During the war, we suddenly discovered more and more Jews that we have never met before since they didn’t identify as Jews. They once hid their Judaism, but all of a sudden many are interested in exploring their Jewish roots,” he said via Zoom from Ukraine.
Kaminetsky claimed that there were one million Jews in Ukraine and before the war, 1.5 million Jews who visited Ukraine yearly, mainly visiting Jewish sites and graves of rabbis across the country. “There are in total two million Jews across Ukraine,” Kaminetsky said.
The representative of the Jewish Agency, its chief program officer Yehuda Setton said during the discussion that “during the first days of the war, everyone wanted to say they were Jewish in Ukraine,” since “the first humanitarian organizations on the ground were Jewish and Israeli. All organizations worked together in an amazing way, including the Foreign Ministry envoys.” He concluded that “what we need to learn from the war is what happens when you put your ego aside and work with each other.”
Rabbi Meir Stambler, Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine said that his organization consists of 179 communities and 940 activists, including city rabbis, heads of communities, Chabad emissaries, educators and more.
“It cost us NIS 50 million, we received aid from the State of Israel, but it is not enough: We need funds for security for our Jewish institutions.”
One of Ukraine’s Chief Rabbis, Moshe Reuven Asman, said at the event that “the new government has been assisting new immigrants [from Ukraine].” He shared that on Purim, “we held an event for 1,500 immigrants in Rehovot. We have established an office in Israel that works with new immigrants.”
Asman said that “we need financial and spiritual support from Israel.”
MK Zeev Elkin said that “the State of Israel is not doing enough for the Jewish communities in Ukraine.” In his view, “there is no place in the world where Israel would have remained silent in the face of damage to synagogues,” he said of the fact that a Russian missile damaged a synagogue in Ukraine.
“It is requested that the State of Israel defend every time there is harm to the Jewish community and its holy places, this is a Jewish guarantee,” Elkin continued.