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The Heart of Ukrainian Jews in Israel: A Firsthand Account

February 25, 2022

by: Ilse Strauss

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A young boy ready to defend his home (illustrative).

Friday, 25 February 2022 | “It is difficult to believe this is happening. I have to pinch myself.”

Elena (not her real name) is far from the only one. Millions around the world are watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine with a sense of shock and stunned disbelief. But for Elena, a Ukrainian-born Israeli, the chilling events unfolding in the headlines like a terrifying memory from world wars past hit very close to home.

Elena and her husband Yvan (not his real name) were born and raised in Ukraine, but made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) nearly 25 years ago. They came as newlyweds with US$100 to their name. “We nearly ended up living on the street,” she laughs. Today, as they watch the horrors unfolding in the country of their birth, they are so thankful for making the move.

Yet Elena and Yvan left pieces of their heart in Ukraine, bidding farewell to family, friends and neighbors. Over the years, they’ve remained close to many of them. And now, as the Russians advance, the ones they hold close to their hearts are the ones stuck in congested traffic trying to flee the capital or huddled in Kyiv’s underground metro stations as the Russian bombs fall. Worse still, uncles, cousins and nephews who were lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs and farmers before the Russians came are now the soldiers—the defenders of Ukraine—facing the Red army.

“Yvan’s cousin is 56 years old, and he has been drafted into the army,” Elena told me. “Everyone—young and old—is being drafted into the army. This is very painful. It is touching very personally.”

The couple’s distress is clearly evident. Yvan receives message after heartbreaking message from relatives and friends in Ukraine. As he showed us video clips of the opening acts of the unfolding war—a firsthand account taken by people he cherish—he was visibly shaking.

Sadly, Israel is filled with people in a similar situation as Elena and Yvan. The Jewish state boasts a significant population of Ukrainian Jews who have made aliyah, with some 500,000 now calling Israel home, the Atlantic Council reported. Thousands of them have come home in recent years. Many of them have mothers, fathers, sons and daughters still living in Ukraine and now facing the Russian onslaught. All of them are frantic. Communication channels are patchy and messages filter through irregularly. This subjects them to a daily agony of waiting for news from loved ones, agonizing over every lengthy silence.

At Bridges for Peace, this situation is particularly close to our hearts too. Over the years, we have helped thousands of Ukrainian Jews come home to Israel and then helped them with food and other necessities as they learn the language, find a job and settle into their new home country. In 2021 alone, it has been our honor to welcome 1,446 Ukrainian Jews home. We stand with them as they mourn the fate of their motherland and fret over loved ones who are still there.

Even as the war drums started beating and Russian troops amassed on the border, our team in Ukraine continued working tirelessly to help as many Jewish people as possible come to Israel. Since the Russian invasion, we have been unable to communicate with our team. We continue to pray for their safety.

At the same time, we are taking action. The escalating tensions in Ukraine come with an added risk to its Jewish population, which totals between 150,000–200,000, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “When troubles came in the past, the Jews were often blamed, even if they weren’t at fault,” says Elena.

Ukrainian Jews may very well be caught in the crosshairs. Thankfully—and unlike so many times in the past—these Jews have a safe haven where they can run to for shelter: Israel. And we, as Christians around the world who stand with the Jewish people, can help them reach that sanctuary.

“Nobody could imagine that a war could happen again. But it is happening,” says Elena.

We don’t have to sit idly by as these horrors unfold before our eyes. Bridges for Peace will continue to be a helping hand to the Ukrainian Jews in their time of need—and you can strengthen that helping hand. We implore you to stand with us in prayer for Ukraine, for Elena and Yvan, for the thousands of other Ukrainian Jews like them here in Israel, for their families and loved ones as they flee, seek shelter or don an ill-fitting uniform. You can also give financially. Your gift will make a direct impact, helping to bring someone in danger to safety. And who knows? Perhaps “you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Posted on February 25, 2022

Source: (Bridges for Peace, February 25, 2022)

Photo Credit: Mikhail Evstafiev/Фото: Михаил Евстафьев/

Photo License: Wikimedia

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