Fleeing unrest, Ukrainian Jews arrive in Israel

According to Jewish Agency stats, some 4,200 Ukrainian immigrants have come so far this year.

Alexandrina Zheludev hugs her mother who escaped from Luhansk to meet her in Israel (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Alexandrina Zheludev hugs her mother who escaped from Luhansk to meet her in Israel
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
Alexandrina Zheludev, 19, sits hugging her mother, Oksana, both holding back tears, as Israeli news photographers gather around photographing them from all possible angles on Monday. Sitting outside a row of offices belonging to the Immigration and Absorption Ministry in Ben-Gurion Airport, the pair have just been reunited after not seeing each other for a year.
Days before Rosh Hashana, 140 immigrants from Russia and Ukraine arrived in Israel, including Alexandrina’s family, refugees from war-torn Luhansk. Held by Moscow- backed separatists rebelling against Kiev, the Jewish community of that city has been scattered to the winds, with many taking refuge in Kharkov, Kiev and Dnipropetrovsk.
Approximately 4,200 Ukrainian immigrants have come so far in the Jewish calendar year of 5774, an increase of 110% over the previous year, according to figures the Jewish Agency released on Monday.
In Israel for a year, Alexandrina lost contact with her family several times during the course of the conflict, which saw them escape the war zone only to return at the behest of Israeli consular officials in order to collect documents necessary to obtain Israeli citizenship.
While Alexandrina awaited word on her family’s well-being, they survived as best they could, living for weeks without water, power or bread, her father, Viatcheslav, told The Jerusalem Post.
Viatcheslav’s elderly parents were unable to travel and remain in Luhansk.
“He worries very much and calls them to speak with them every day,” Alexandrina said, translating for her father.
“I have no words,” she continued.
“I waited so long for this day, and now that I see them I don’t believe it. It’s very hard, but now I’m very happy that I’m reunited with them.”
Many olim displaced by the fighting say they had no wish to leave Ukraine and desire only to return to their homes.
This attitude is “such a human thing which is typical for Jews from any part of the world,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky explained. “They don’t think every moment when to make aliya. They are thinking how to continue their normal lives.”
Those Jews now living in Ukraine are among the “hardcore people who didn’t want to make aliya” when their families and friends left for the Jewish state in the mass exodus following the fall of communism, he said.
Issues impeding the speedy processing of potential immigrants include difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian passports and communal records and proof of Jewish identity. He said the Jewish Agency is working to circumvent such obstacles.
“People cannot wait, so we have really to do it quickly, and sometimes we really have to continue this process, not there but in another place,” Sharansky told the Post. “It’s all extremely exciting for me,” he said of seeing new immigrants.
Oksana Zheludev seems happy to be in Israel.
“Israel is my home. I don’t want to go [back],” she said.
Other immigrants who spoke with the Post agreed, saying they were happy to have arrived and had no plans to return to Ukraine should the fighting cease.
“I think I will stay here and not go back,” said Sergey Pushkin, 27, a father of three. “I have relatives here and [we can] live together here and have a normal life.”
Alexandr Merakin, 17, from central Ukraine, agreed, saying while he and his parents left the country partly due to the economic instability accompanying the war, they had planned on aliya even before the current troubles started, “I will finish [the Jewish Agency’s] Sela program and my parents will finish a 5-month language program and then we will be Israelis,” he said.