Israeli diplomats went to work in recent days with all their possessions packed into their cars to prepare for a possible evacuation, Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky said, a day after the embassy moved from Kyiv to Lviv.
Brodsky spoke as he and Israel’s other diplomats in Ukraine settled into the embassy’s new location on Ukraine’s western border, where it had moved a day earlier from Kyiv, which is further east and closer to the likely war zone.
“I held the line [in Kyiv] for a long time and postponed the move as much as we could,” he said. “I wasn’t sure we would reach this point... but, over the weekend the escalation reached a point at which we concluded we will have to evacuate the embassy.
“I had told all of the [Israeli] emissaries to come to work with suitcases days before, because the escalation could happen at any time, and that’s what they did for several days – they had suitcases in their cars,” Brodsky recounted.
The decision to evacuate from Kyiv was made immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech, in which he denied Ukraine’s right to statehood, soon after he recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics.
“Within an hour, we met at the embassy and drove to Lviv,” Brodsky said, adding that the embassy staff took everything important with them.
Asked if the diplomats shredded documents, Brodsky said yes.
The ambassador had a meeting with Lviv’s mayor on Wednesday and spoke with local border control authorities to prepare for the possibility that Israelis will need to be evacuated by land.
The embassy has been receiving more inquiries about immigration to Israel in recent days.
“We’re starting to see an uptick in interest in aliyah [immigration],” Brodsky said. “We especially see it coming from eastern Ukraine – more interest and more concerns.”
According to senior Israeli government officials, there are about 200,000 residents of Ukraine eligible to move to Israel under the Law of Return. Only about a quarter of them are Jewish according to Jewish law.
There has not been a rise in official immigration requests, however, Brodsky said. Anyone interested in moving to Israel would have to go to Lviv to complete the process.
Israelis have already begun arriving at the new embassy, Brodsky said.
Many of those who remain in Ukraine, despite the Israeli government’s plea to return, have family locally. Some belatedly realized their passports had expired or that they never registered their children as Israeli, the ambassador said.
“They can still take care of those things, but they have to come to Lviv,” he said.
Brodsky was summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry last week following media reports on the call that Jerusalem allegedly made asking Moscow for help evacuating Israelis.
At the time, Brodsky said the call to Moscow had two goals, to send a message of de-escalation and to express concern for the security of Israeli diplomats.
On Wednesday, Brodsky said, “Ukrainians are busy with other things, like dealing with the threat of war. With all due respect, Israel is less interesting to them.”