Israel has called on its citizens to leave Ukraine as a Russian invasion appears increasingly likely.

“I call … on Israelis in Ukraine: Return home,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “Do not take unnecessary risks. Do not wait for a situation where you really want to return and it will already be impossible.”

In a travel warning issued on Saturday night, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that “following tensions and concern of an escalation, the Foreign Ministry calls on Israeli citizens in Ukraine to leave as soon as possible.”

The ministry also requested that Israelis planning to travel to Ukraine cancel their trips.

The travel warning was published shortly after a meeting Saturday night between Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the heads of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and National Security Council, as well as other top officials.

The leaders discussed preparations for the evacuation of Israelis from Ukraine if needed. The prime minister also consulted with airlines about increasing flights between the two countries.

El Al said on Saturday night that it was adding two flights on Mondays: Flight 2561 from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Kyiv and Flight 2652 from Kyiv to Ben-Gurion.

Tickets cost $250 and can be purchased online. Flights already scheduled on Sundays and Thursdays will continue.

“El Al is in constant contact with the Foreign Ministry … and will act in accordance with developments,” the airline said. “The safety and security of the citizens of Israel and Jews wherever they are is before our eyes, and we will do everything necessary to help those who are in distress.”

Stefan Oscar, executive director of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s former Soviet Union operation, said “as news from Ukraine grows more worrying, we stand ready to maintain our humanitarian lifeline to a vulnerable population of needy Jews and Jewish communities. We are already responding to a crisis of human needs among them.

“Simmering tensions are contributing to skyrocketing inflation, food and utility prices. The country’s poorest Jews are now facing dire choices between food, medicine and heating as they experience a harsh winter and a possible conflict,” he explained. “For weeks, we have been preparing our staff, volunteers and Hesed social-welfare centers to address this need and possible emergency situations. They continue to provide life-saving food, medicine, home care and remote care to the tens of thousands of needy Jewish elderly and families we serve in 1,000 locations around Ukraine.”

“In doing so,” said Oscar, “we’re leveraging JDC’s experience from the 2014 crisis in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and our widespread presence on the ground to prepare for emerging needs, including the possible displacement of people.”

‘Provide solutions as the situation demands’

The Israeli Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel said on Sunday that they would evacuate educational emissaries and their families serving in Ukraine.

Acting chairman of the Jewish Agency Yaakov Hagoel said “we are prepared to address this dynamic situation. The Jewish Agency will continue serving the Jewish communities in Ukraine and provide solutions within our areas of activity as the situation demands.”

The Education Ministry said the emissaries serve in more than 20 Jewish schools in the area. It said the teachers will continue to teach Jewish students in Ukraine via distance learning as much as possible.

“Upon their arrival in Israel, the Ministry of Education will work to place the children of the emissaries in educational institutions, and will make sure to give them a wide envelope of support,” it said.

A 2016 report by Italian-Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola estimated that there are between 56,000 and 140,000 Jews in Ukraine, making it the fourth-largest Jewish community in Europe, according to the World Jewish Congress website.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has estimated there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Israelis in Ukraine.

JNS

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