Israel, Jewish groups considering emergency airlift of 75,000 Ukrainian Jews if Russia invades

It is unclear whether an airlift would be possible if Russia invades Ukraine.
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Jewish pilgrims stuck between Belarus, Ukraine border, Sept. 16, 2020
Jewish pilgrims, Ukraine-Belarus border, Sept. 16, 2020
TUT.BY/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli government officials and Jewish organization leaders met on Sunday to discuss the safety of Jewish communities in Ukraine and the possibility of airlifting Jews out of the country in the event of a Russian incursion, according to a report from Haaretz.

The briefing reportedly included officials from the National Security Council, the office of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, transport, defense, foreign and diaspora affairs ministries, as well as representatives from the organizations Nativ and the Jewish Agency.

The evacuation would be coordinated by the Israeli government. An estimated 75,000 Ukrainian Jews are eligible to become Israeli citizens under the Law of Return. Israel has not seen a major increase in immigration requests from Ukraine. While not every Jew will want to be evacuated, the airlift could be the largest exodus of Jews to Israel from a war-torn nation in more than three decades.

During the covert Operation Solomon in 1991, more than 14,300 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted over 36 hours from Ethiopia, which was in the middle of a civil war.

When Russian-backed separatists took over the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014, hundreds of Jews fled to refugee camps and later immigrated to Israel. The Times of Israel reports that more than 30,000 people emigrated from Ukraine to Israel between 2014 and 2018.

An evacuation plan for Ukrainian Jews has existed since around the collapse of the Soviet Union, Haaretz reports. The plan is being updated, but it is unclear whether an airlift would be possible if Russia invades Ukraine.

The United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany have ordered the evacuation of family members of embassy personnel in Ukraine.