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Rescued: 100 Ukrainians arrive in Israel

By Pesach Benson

A group of 100 elderly Ukrainian Jews making aliyah to Israel landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday night, Dec. 21. The flight included several passengers who are bed-bound and have been waiting for months to move to Israel.

Ukrainian immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel on Dec. 21, 2022. (Yossi Zelinger)

Among the arrivals was Ella Smirnova, 76, who fled her home in Odessa where she lived her whole life. As she was preparing for Rosh Hashanah in September, she fell and broke her neck and was completely paralyzed.

“I’m totally handicapped and limited to my bed so this war has added to my feeling of helplessness and I didn’t see a way out. When the air raid sirens went off the only thing I could think to do was try and hide under the bedsheet and the only way I would be able to save myself is if someone came along to help me,” Smirnova said.

The flight was made possible by the Jewish Agency, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Joint Distribution Committee and ZAKA.

Staff from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption were on hand at the airport to help the new arrivals.

Many spent their first night in Israel in the homes of relatives. Others stayed at hotels arranged by the ministry.

The rescue flight was supposed to take place earlier in the month, but more time was needed in part due to the medical needs of some of the passengers.

“This flight of 100 people evacuated from the war zone is very emotional, particularly in these days of Chanukah as it is a modern symbol of the heroism of the weak over the mighty,” said Dovi Weissenstern, CEO of the ZAKA emergency response organization.

“Every day we’re assisting Holocaust survivors, the elderly and people who have been injured in the shelling.”

The arrival underscored year-end statistics released by the Jewish Agency on Dec. 22 showing that 2022 was a banner year for immigration.

Over 70,000 immigrants arrived in Israel this year, the highest figure in 23 years and more than double the number from last year.

Almost three-quarters of this year’s immigrants came from either Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.

Another 1,500 immigrants came from Ethiopia. An additional 3,500 Jews immigrated from North America, 2,049 from France, 985 from Argentina, 526 from Britain, 426 from South Africa and 356 from Brazil.

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