Hundreds of Israelis stuck in Russia, Ukraine, UK due to airport closure

Currently, the only regular flights to Israel fly from Frankfurt or New York, after the government shut down all commercial flights into Israel on January 25.

THE EMPTY departures hall at Ben-Gurion Airport this week. When will the skies open up and how long will it take until traveling is safe? (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
THE EMPTY departures hall at Ben-Gurion Airport this week. When will the skies open up and how long will it take until traveling is safe?
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Hundreds of Israelis are stranded in Russia, Ukraine and the UK and are unable to return to Israel, despite having entry permits. There are no direct flights to Tel Aviv, and passengers face financial, health and logistical difficulties using the only connecting flight through Frankfurt.
On Monday, the government reduced the number of people who can enter the country per day from 600 to 200.
There reportedly are about 90 Israelis stuck in Kiev with permission from the Transportation Ministry’s Exceptions Committee to return, and another 40 are waiting for a permit.
In Moscow, there are said to be some 150 Israeli citizens who have received permission to return and about 50 waiting for a permit.
In the UK, there reportedly are at least 60 Israelis with permits, and according to Rabbi Dov Lipman, a former MK who has been working to assist Israelis stuck abroad, there are dozens more.
Currently, the only regular flights to Israel are from Frankfurt or New York. The government shut down all commercial flights to Israel on January 25.
But for many travelers, using these destinations for connecting flights to Tel Aviv is not possible.
Ksenia Shelymagina flew to Moscow on January 12 to take care of her grandfather, who has cancer and no other relatives to assist him.
She has an autoimmune disease that requires ongoing medical therapy and is concerned about flying through Frankfurt, which would require waiting in the airport and could be dangerous to her health.
“I am a new immigrant, a year and a half in the country,” she said. “I, like many others, chose Israel to build my new home, a new life and [to raise a] family in it. I pinned many hopes on Israel. It is very sad that now no one wants us.”
Aglaya Ivanova is also a new immigrant. She came to Israel on a Masa program and became a citizen last June.
Ivanova’s father passed away in December. She flew to St. Petersburg for the funeral and planned to fly back to Israel on January 30.
But now she is stuck in Russia because of the airport closure and does not have enough money to get on a flight to Frankfurt. Due to the September COVID-19 lockdown, she has not worked for six months and is ineligible for unemployment benefits.
In the UK, Israir has been trying to arrange a special charter flight from London to Tel Aviv for those stuck in the country with entry permits to return. It has not yet received approval from the Transportation Ministry.
Flying from London to Israel via Frankfurt is difficult to do with checked baggage for bureaucratic reasons. Flying from Tel Aviv to London is also very difficult, and one person reportedly had to pay £1,100 (about NIS 5,000) to be at the bedside of his dying mother in the UK.
Those stuck in Russia and Ukraine have organized a group that would pay for a charter flight to be sent to Moscow to bring them home. They have not yet received a response from the Transportation Ministry.
Due to government decisions to restrict the number of people entering the country, such charter flights were currently not permitted, a Transportation Ministry spokesman said.
A special flight was arranged from London to Tel Aviv last week, the spokesman said, adding that he did not know why others had not been authorized.
MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) on Monday asked Transportation Minister Miri Regev to issue a permit for charter flights to assist the hundreds of Israelis stuck in Russia and Ukraine. He has not yet received a reply, he told The Jerusalem Post.
“The state has an obligation to bring back Israeli citizens who want to come home, all the more so for those who are in a sensitive situation and who have received permission [to return] from the Exceptions Committee,” Razbozov said.
MK Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beytenu) also has tried to help Israelis stuck in the countries of the former Soviet Union to return home. He has not yet received assistance from the Transportation Ministry, he said.
“In recent weeks, my office has become a command center for helping hundreds of Israeli citizens who have been turned into illegal residents around the world, and the government has abandoned them,” Kushnir said.