Israel is committing a travesty by turning dozens of Ukrainian refugees away from the country, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said on Tuesday, in a briefing with reporters in Tel Aviv.
He expressed his disappointment at the lack of support given the role Ukrainians played in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust, and UKRAIN'S stance as a staunch ally of the Jewish state.
Korniychuk said that dozens of Ukrainian nationals had arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport and were sent back despite the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the Russian invasion.
“I am trying to be diplomatic,” the envoy said. “My family is partially in Ukraine. We definitely need more help, and we have received more help from other partners in the world than [from] Israel. But we hope that decisions will be taken and there will be more aid from Israel in the coming days. We were disappointed yesterday by the decision of the minister of interior that explained that they will not allow Ukrainian refugees to come to Israel.
“We believe that you remember the times of the Second World War, when Ukrainians were saving the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. Ukraine is in fourth place, with almost 4,000 people who have been called Righteous Among the Nations. And while we saved Jewish lives in that time, we are asking you to help the Ukrainians to overcome this tragedy now.”
The issue, Korniychuk said, was “humanitarian.”
The ambassador said he had spoken with Israeli officials and urged them to reconsider the current policy. The ambassador said that Israeli officials were asking for bonds of up to NIS 20,000 to allow someone to remain in the country, money that none of these refugees have.
Korniychuk told reporters that he understood Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s offer to mediate had not been accepted, and that Russia was not serious about ceasefire talks. The diplomat said he believed talks in Belarus were a ruse to distract from Russia’s continued military engagement.
“Two parties are needed for mediation, and now there is only one party that wants talks and that is Ukraine,” he said, adding that this is why the situation has escalated.
When the time comes for mediation, “Jerusalem would be a good venue,” Korniychuk said. “Israel is the only one civilized democratic nation that is in very good relations with both countries, so that might give it leverage. It might help Israel to be a balanced mediator.”
While he said Ukraine was grateful for the blankets and water purifiers Israel was sending, more specifically targeted shipments were needed that includes antibiotics, medical supplies and possibly a field hospital.
Alternatively, he said, Ukraine has also asked Israel to treat wounded soldiers or civilians in Israel.
Protective gear such as helmets and vests are needed because Europe is out of those supplies. “We passed our request [on] to the Israeli government,” Korniychuk said, and that it was not just soldiers that needed this but paramedics and firefighters also need protective gear.
As of Monday, more than 520,000 Ukrainian refugees had escaped into neighboring countries, with more than 100,000 going to Poland, and close to 16,000 entering Moldova.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that his country would be ready to take 200,000 refugees.
An estimated 10,000 Ukrainian Jews have registered to make aliyah, out of 200,000 who are eligible.
Ofer Kerzner, honorary counsel for Ukraine in Jerusalem, said his country had been one of six that had voted against the Goldstone report at the UN Human Rights Council.
Kerzner said that he believed that Israel had to do more now that the fighting had intensified, and that the world was uniting with Ukraine, including sending self-defensive weapons. He said 95% of the people are living without security, and that it was a country where bomb shelters had not been built in 75 years.
Civilians are stopping tanks in a situation that no one could have imagined just a week ago, Kerzner said.
“I am asking for all the help that is possible,” he said. “I don’t understand how the world is not doing enough to help. Israel should understand Ukraine at this moment,” recalling how just last year Tel Aviv was under attack from Gaza.
“We live in the 21st century,” he said. “War is not a solution; it is not a way to solve things. Israel, the Jewish people, have a history [with Ukraine]. The Ukrainian people have a right to live in their independent country.”