140 Ukrainian olim arrived at Ben Gurion Airport Tuesday morning, on a plane chartered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), as part of its ‘Freedom Flight’ program.
The program began in December 2014, soon after the beggining of the Russian agression against Ukraine, with monthly aliya flights to rescue Jewish refugees from the war-torn Donbass region. IFCJ, however, swiftly expanded its aliya operation to include Jews from secure areas of Ukraine, as well as to many other countries around the world. The program provides the olim with guidance before and after aliya, in addition to financial and social support to help them integrate into their new country.
Jewish refugees from the Donbass region still comprise a significant portion of those headed to Israel from Ukraine.
Liubov and Alexey Jashta, are one such couple. They are from an area of Donetsk battered by violence since the outbreak of the War in Donbass, and have subsequently been driven out of their country. They told The Jerusalem Post hours before their aliya-- as they took part in a preparatory IFCJ seminar about life in Israel-- that they did not feel safe in their home. In addition, the war hit their economic security, both of them lost their jobs at a local factory, along with many of their colleagues. The Jashtas received aid from a charitable organization called Chesed, which provided them with medicine and food at a time when the shelves in the stores were empty.
Liubov is an engineer and Alexey a technician; both are aged 63 and are eager to pick up their careers again in Israel. Why Israel and not another part of Ukraine? “We don’t any prospects in other areas of Ukraine. Nobody is waiting for us there,” the couple answers.
In big cities, such as Kiev, the cost of living is expensive and it’s hard to find a place to live, while it’s difficult to find work in the small cities. Moreover, the couple laments that refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk do not receive a warm welcome in other areas of Ukraine, they are often held responsible for the 2014 referendums held by the separatist republics, in which the majority voted in favor of independence from Ukraine. The Jashtas say that negative preconceptions about residents of the Donbass area have since increased and have also been propagated by the media.
The pair are both excited and nervous about their new lives in Afula, in northern Israel. Though they note that a life change of this kind is not easy at their age, they are hopeful that Israel will be good to them.
For Yevhen Lampakov, 42, Israel is the final destination of a journey of rediscovery. The Kiev native has dreamed of moving to Israel since the age of 22, when he learned about Israel’s Law of Return, which allows for anyone with a Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel.Lampakov’s grandfather was Jewish, however, his mother hid her Jewish origins --as many Jewish Ukrainians did -- with memories of the Soviet Union’s treatment of Jews casting a dark shadow their identity. Lampakov’s mother objected to her son’s ideas of moving to Israel, afraid of the country’s security situation. He dutifully laid his dreams on the side and remained in Ukraine.
When his mother passed away of Cancer in 2013, the thought of aliya resurfaced in his mind. His mother had told him that the original documents proving her father’s Jewish identity had been destroyed, but while clearing out his mother’s apartment, he stumbled across the original copy of her birth certificate, which literally fell on him as he opened the door of one of her cupboards.
Thus the preparations for his and his wife Valentina’s aliya began. Lampakov has been taking Hebrew classes in Kiev, which proved to be a source of strengthening to the connection he already felt to Judaism and Israel. He told the Post that he found himself relating to many of the stories his teacher told of her life in Israel, and strongly identified with her attitude toward life. The Lampakovs will settle in Rishon Letzion, where they hope to start a family.
Meanwhile in the Mykhailo family, Nadia and Yuriy followed their son to Israel. 17-year-old Plakida’s desire to move to Israel began with a girl he met at Jewish Agency summer camp in Ukraine at the tender age of 14.
The girl told him she was making aliya and he wanted to go with her. "At first I only thought about the girl," he confesses three years later, "but then I understood that it was a good opportunity for life in general." He made good on his word and from age 14-17 went to highschool in Israel as part of the Naaleh program
Mykhalo connects more with the Israeli people and the mentality of the country than he does with Ukraine. He says that while in Ukraine he finds the culture to be individualistic, in Israel he feels that the people are united.
His supportive parents Nadia and Yuri, are now joining him in Israel, and making their home in Haifa.
By TAMARA ZIEVE