It was startling to hear Russian President Putin use the term “de-Nazification”1 in his address outlining his purpose in the invasion of Ukraine. Under the pretext of “de-Nazification”, Putin accuses the Ukrainians of being Nazis and drug addicts, claiming his invasion was “to protect people who for eight years now have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime”.2

This is absurd in the extreme as the president of “the Kyiv regime”, Volodymyr Zelensky is a Jew, while Ukraine’s former prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman was also Jewish. Moreover, Zelensky gained the support of around 70 percent of voters in the 2019 general election.

Inexplicably, Russian bombs have fallen on the site of Babyn Yar, the memorial to one of the worst single massacres of the Holocaust, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by the Nazis. In response to the bombing of the memorial, President Zelensky emotionally asked, “What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?”3

Home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities with deep historical roots, some of Judaism’s most distinctive ideologies and traditions originated in Ukraine. The country also has a rich Yiddish culture. Kyiv alone has several Jewish schools.

Population estimates range from 49,000 to 400,000.4 It is difficult to estimate the number of Jews, because the vast majority are non-observant and not easily identified.

President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is an horrific tragedy for all Ukrainians; but for the Jewish people, it has a deeply troubling significance. An estimated 1.2 million to 1.4 million Ukrainian Jews perished during the Holocaust. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s grandfather is among those who were killed by the Nazis.

While the Russian invasion has thrown all of Ukraine into crisis, the Jewish community is acutely affected. With a long history of persecution and terror over the centuries, Ukraine’s Jewish community is again in fear. Some have fled to Israel; others are taking refuge in synagogues and bunkers for survival.5

Almost one hundred Jewish orphans from the Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr, near the Belarus border, crossed into Romania, where they continued their journey to Israel by air. The children, aged 4 to 18, have been in the care of Chabad’s Alumim orphanage. Many of the children are suffering trauma as they relive the events of the 2014 conflict.6

The Russian offensive has led to the Jewish Agency, which oversees immigration to Israel, announcing plans to set up six aliyah processing stations on Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. The Agency has been working to meet the expected wave of migration from Ukraine to Israel by setting up emergency hotlines to answer questions about the immigration process.

Under Israel’s law of return, which requires a person to have at least one Jewish grandparent in order to receive Israeli citizenship, some 200,000 people in Ukraine would be eligible to immigrate.7 Meanwhile, rabbis in countries bordering Ukraine are preparing to take in the refugees.

Israel’s Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked, said that about 100,000 Jewish arrivals from Ukraine and Russia were expected because of uncertainty and repression as Moscow wages its war. Israel will also allow 25,000 non-Jewish Ukrainians who are not eligible for immigration to stay in the country as refugees until the war in Ukraine ends.8

It is true that during World War II many Ukrainian nationalists initially welcomed the German invaders as liberators. Many collaborated with the Nazi occupation and were known for savage anti-Semitism. All Holocaust survivors and their descendants carry memories of a long history of trauma.

At the time of writing, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. The outcome of the war is uncertain. But from the Scriptures we know that the end for Russia is to “fall upon the mountains of Israel” at Armageddon, with all “but the sixth part” of her massive army destroyed (Ezek 39:2-4). For the present, we see that many Jews are seeking refuge in Israel: a further ingathering prior to the return of Christ.

References:

  1. ‘Holocaust survivors condemn Putin’s ‘denazification’ claim in Ukraine’, by AFP and TOI staff, The Times of Israel, 3 March 2022, online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/holocaust-survivors-condemn-putins-denazification-claim-in-ukraine/
  2. Quoted in, Melanie Phillips, ‘For the Jews, history repeats itself in Ukraine’, Jewish News Syndicate, March 3, 2022, online at: https://www.jns.org/opinion/for-the-jews-history-repeats-itself-in-ukraine/
  3. Quoted in, Melanie Phillips.
  4. Shaked Karabelnicoff, ‘Who are the Jews of Ukraine?’ Unpacked, Updated 3 March, 2022, online at: https://jewishunpacked.com/who-are-the-jews-of-ukraine/
  5. Leila Miller, ‘Ukraine’s Jews seek refuge in synagogues as Russia invades’, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 25, 2022, online at: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-02-25/la-fg-ukraine-jews
  6. Sue Surkes, ‘Fleeing city near Belarus border, busloads of Ukraine Jewish orphans look to Israel’, The Times of Israel, 28 February 2022, online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/fleeing-city-near-belarus-border-busloads-of-ukraine-jewish-orphans-look-to-israel/amp/
  7. Judah Ari Gross, ‘Hundreds of Jews fleeing Ukraine to arrive in Israel next week’, The Times of Israel, 2 March 2022, online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/hundreds-of-jews-fleeing-ukraine-to-arrive-in-israel-next-week/
  8. ‘Israel will allow 25,000 non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees to stay in country — minister’, by TOI staff, The Times of Israel, 8 March 2022, online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-will-allow-25000-non-jewish-ukrainian-refugees-to-stay-in-country-minister/