Israel called on all of its citizens on Saturday evening to leave Ukraine immediately, as a Russian invasion looked increasingly likely.
“Following the tensions and concern at escalation, the Foreign Ministry calls on Israeli citizens in Ukraine to leave the country as soon as possible,” the travel warning reads.
“In addition, the Foreign Ministry calls on Israelis planning to arrive in Ukraine soon to cancel their trips at this time,” the ministry stated. “The Foreign Ministry and Israeli Embassy in Ukraine call on Israeli citizens in the country to register [on the embassy website].” Some 4,500 had done so by Saturday night.
The elevated travel warning followed a Saturday evening meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the heads of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), National Security Council and others.
They also discussed the possibility that it will be necessary to evacuate Israelis from the country, with the IDF and Foreign Ministry already planning for such a scenario.
Before that, the Prime Minister’s Office spoke with Israeli airlines about increasing the number of civilian flights between the two countries.
There are currently 22 flights per week from Ukraine to Israel, and the airports are open, so there is no need for special flights yet, a Foreign Ministry source said, urging Israelis not to wait until the last minute to get out.
The Foreign Ministry estimated that there are 10,000-15,000 Israelis in Ukraine. About 200,000 Ukrainians qualify for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
The ministry began working in emergency mode and established a special team to handle the crisis. It sent additional consular staff to back up the six Israeli diplomats in Kyiv who will help Israelis and Jews leave the country. Israel is the only country currently increasing its consular staff in Ukraine, it said.
It also decided to evacuate the families of its diplomats stationed in Kyiv back to Israel; they are expected to arrive on Sunday.
Lapid spoke with Israeli diplomats in Kyiv and heard their assessment of the situation and how they are preparing for it.