Israel evacuating families of diplomatic staff from Ukraine; issues travel warning

The Foreign Ministry on Friday issued a travel warning for Ukraine and announced the evacuation of the families of diplomatic staff stationed there amid fears of a Russian invasion.

A ministry statement urged Israelis currently in Ukraine to consider leaving the country and “in any case to avoid approaching centers of tension.”

It called on Israelis who are there to register with the ministry online. Some 4,000 Israelis had done so as of Friday, but there may twice or three times that number, Channel 13 news said.

Israelis planning on traveling to Ukraine should reconsider, the ministry added.

The Foreign Ministry said it has decided to evacuate the families of diplomats and of staff at the embassy in Kyiv. The embassy will continue to function.

The building housing Israel’s embassy in Kyiv (Tohaomg / Wikipedia)

The United States and several other countries have already moved to evacuate the families of diplomats from Ukraine, while the United Kingdom on Friday urged British citizens there to “leave now while commercial means are still available.”

The Foreign Ministry statement, which cited the “worsening of the situation” in Ukraine, did not name Russia or cite the prospect of a Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (center right) and President Isaac Herzog review the honor guard during a welcome ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

But a senior Israeli official told the Walla news site that the Foreign Ministry issued the travel warning and decided on the evacuations because Russia now has enough forces on Ukraine’s borders to invade.

“The Russians began a military exercise in Belarus that may soon become an offensive against Ukraine,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

Separately on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia could invade Ukraine during the current Beijing Winter Olympics so Americans should leave the Eastern European country immediately.

Blinken did not detail the reasons behind the State Department’s latest security alert that calls on all American citizens to leave Ukraine.

“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said in Melbourne, Australia.

“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time and, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” Blinken added. The Olympic Games are scheduled to end on February 20.

Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine. It says it has no plans to invade, but wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of NATO.

In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, a tank takes part in a military exercise, in in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, on February 5, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The Foreign Ministry announcement came as the UK Jewish News reported that Jewish charities were readying plans to evacuate Ukrainian Jews in case war breaks out, and amid growing warnings over the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders.

According to a newspaper report last month, some 75,000 people living in eastern Ukraine are believed eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing Crimea and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed over 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped halt large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued, and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled. The Kremlin has accused Kyiv of sabotaging the agreement, and Ukrainian officials argued in recent weeks that implementing it would hurt their country.

Foreign policy advisers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine held nearly nine hours of talks in Berlin on Thursday to try to revive the stalled agreement, but made no progress.

The Berlin talks were part of renewed diplomatic efforts to resolve the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that embassy staff were being evacuated.

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