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Most of the Jews living in Ukraine are now filling out paperwork to prepare for emigration to Israel if necessary, Ukraine’s chief rabbi, Yaacov Dov Bleich, said Sunday in a radio interview.
While he stopped short of calling for mass evacuation, Bleich said he is encouraged by those Ukrainian Jews who are making Aliyah, or emigrating to the Jewish state, to “take care of themselves.”
In an interview on Aaron Klein’s Sunday night radio show on New York’s 970 AM The Answer, Bleich squarely blamed the violence ripping the country apart on Russia and its allies in Ukraine.
He stated, “All of the violence, and when I say all, I mean every single case of violence of Ukrainian against Ukrainian has been instigated and implemented by the pro-Russians – initiated, implemented, instigated.”
Regarding Ukraine’s Jewish community, which has been facing an increasingly hostile environment, Bleich stressed he is not calling for mass evacuation “and we aren’t telling people to run away because who knows what will happen, what will be.”
He continued: “We still are quite optimistic. However, at the same time, most of the Jews and whoever has a possibility is preparing documents so that if they want to make Aliyah there will be nothing to hold them up.”
Bleich told Klein that of Ukraine’s estimated 360,000 Jews, about 120,000 are elderly and would have difficulty moving to a new country.
“So it’s not so simple to just call for mass evacuation, because we don’t have right now the ability, the possibility, the funds or the manpower to evacuate elderly people and people who don’t have any way or any means to make Aliyah,” Bleich said. “However, those that could and are, like I said, it’s a great thing. And they should make Aliyah. They should take care of themselves.”
Earlier today, a group of 19 Ukrainian Jews reportedly arrived in the Jewish state, with the Jewish Agency releasing statistics showing 2014 has so far evidenced a 142-percent increase in Ukrainian immigration to Israel compared to 2013.
Bleich addressed Friday’s deadly gunfights between pro- and anti-Russian groups in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, telling Klein he has information the death toll has reached at least 40 amid media reports of 31 killed.
He said Friday’s clashes were “also instigated and initiated by the pro-Russians, who attacked a peaceful demonstration of Ukrainian unity as they have done dozens and dozens of times throughout eastern and southern Ukraine over the last two months. They were attacked by baseball bats, and what was added is that people were shot.”
Listen to audio of the interview below: