A new group of 116 Jews from Ukraine – many of them refugees from the country’s recent civil war – returned home to Israel Tuesday.
The group was aided by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), and were fleeing escalating violence, poverty and increased levels of violent anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
Thousands of Jews have made aliyah from Ukraine in the last several years, in a wave of immigration largely triggered by the civil war in that country.
Among those making aliyah were two teenage sisters who were badly beaten in brutal anti-Semitic attacks.
Marina and Alexandra, aged 17 and 15, respectively, moved with their family several years ago from the Ukrainian capital Kiev to the small suburb of Rakytne. But the ongoing war between Russian forces and Ukrainian nationalists – which flared this week with nationalist attacks on Russian banks – revived longtime strains of anti-Semitism that hit the girls particularly hard.
In the past year, both girls were severely beaten three times by classmates, suffering concussions and necessitating hospital visits where they required stitches for their wounds. Their only 'crime': they spoke in Russian and not Ukrainian, and they were “Zhids” – Jews.
Their father – who recalled suffering similar beatings 40 years ago when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, said: “Even my daughters’ teacher joined in the cursing and name-calling. They called my girls ‘separatists’ and other ugly names for Jews.”
“We came to Israel so that our children can be given the opportunity to live with dignity.”
Their mother added: “If we tried to take these kids and their teacher to court, it would have only made things worse. Those in charge would have fired my husband from his job and my kids would have been left to starve. When my sister mentioned The Fellowship’s Aliyah flights to Israel, I knew it was time to go.”
Many of today’s olim are refugees from eastern Ukraine who have fled the fighting and the poverty that has taken hold of that region for some time now.
“Unfortunately, Marina and Alexandra are not alone in their suffering. The situation in Ukraine remains dire and it is our responsibility to take care of Ukraine’s Jews,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of The Fellowship.
“As our aliyah efforts in 2015 have shown, the better we get at providing aliyah and klitah services, the more people will be inclined to take the leap and come home to Israel.”