Ukraine warns Israel: Maltreatment of refugees will cost you Uman

The Ukrainian president issued a warning on Friday about turning away Ukrainian refugees as they attempt to seek refuge in Israel.

 Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a press conference during a NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania July 12, 2023. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a press conference during a NATO leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania July 12, 2023.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a warning to Israel on Friday regarding visas for Ukrainians seeking to enter Israel.

In a statement from his weekly briefing to Ukrainians, and published on the Ukrainian president’s official government website, Zelensky said, ”I listened to the report of the Border Guard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Intelligence regarding the treatment of our citizens – immigrants who are in different countries, and regarding visa regimes. The things that the citizens of Ukraine actually face in the visa issue. Managers responsible for these issues have been given appropriate tasks. The rights of Ukrainian citizens must be guaranteed.”

Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, elucidated the statement, asserting that it was directed at Israel.

“The government of Ukraine will not tolerate humiliation of its citizens while entering Israel. We will halt our bilateral visa waiver agreements as stipulated by Article 7 of the intergovernmental agreement. This option is on the table of our government,” Korniychuk said. “It is unthinkable,” he added, “that we will have to go out of our way to host tens of thousands of Israelis in Uman, with a high-security risk, and with a huge logistical effort, when, on the other hand, the Israeli government abuses our citizens who come to Israel within the framework of the treaty between the two countries.”

The ambassador went on to state that if Israel would like Ukraine to continue to permit Israelis to visit Ukraine, including Uman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should directly involve himself in solving the Ukrainian visa issue.

 Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Moshe Arbel hits back at Korniychuk's claims

Some in the Israeli government quickly hit back at the Ukrainian ambassador’s assertion that Israel was being abusive to Ukrainians seeking to enter the country.

Shas MK Moshe Arbel, who is currently serving as the interior and health minister, emphatically denounced Korniychuk’s statement.

“I completely reject the claims about the humiliation of Ukrainian citizens upon entering Israel,” Arbel said. “The Israeli immigration policy welcomes tourists from many countries in the world, including Ukraine. In cases where there is suspicion of illegal use of a tourist visa for work or settlement purposes, the Population and Immigration Authority exercises its legal authority.

“The bold partnership between Israel and Ukraine will continue, as the health minister I am proud of the completion of the process of transferring medicines to Ukraine and of the collaborations in the field of health maintained by my office and I intend to continue and deepen these collaborations.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that health insurance and other aid provided to Ukrainian refugees in Israel will be extended until the end of the year.

Last week, controversy ensued after reports that Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Israel following the outbreak of the conflict with Russia approximately a year and a half ago would no longer have access to health services due to the expiration of their medical insurance. The decision drew sharp criticism from the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel.

Following the resolution of the issues, the chief rabbi of Ukraine, Rabbi Moshe Asman, praised the decision. “I congratulate my friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and my friend Mr. Yossi Shelley, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, for the welcome decision to extend the social and health assistance to the war refugees from Ukraine until the end of the year,” he said.

“This is an important and necessary humanitarian act for those who fled to Israel from the war in Ukraine. I call on the Israeli government not to wait until the end of the year and to formulate a solution for refugees for the year 2024 right now.”