Israelis, Arabs, Iranians Flee Ukraine Amidst Shelling
Israelis, Iranians and Tunisians landed back in their home countries Tuesday to the tearful relief of relatives, as evacuations of nationals caught up in the Russian invasion of Ukraine gathered pace.
The evacuees had all been forced to make harrowing escapes by land through the war zone to board repatriation flights in neighbouring countries after Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian traffic at the start of the invasion last week.
One of the first repatriation flights bringing home Israeli evacuees landed at Ben Gurion airport from Romania.
Badr Tawil, 23, a student who fled Ukraine’s under-fire second city Kharkiv, said he had escaped chaos.
“We just woke up once and we heard the sounds around us. Bombs everywhere. So we decided to leave, just to leave Ukraine,” he said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday his office had helped 4,000 Israelis leave Ukraine since Russia invaded.
“We will do everything to not leave any Israeli behind, or any Jew behind,” he told journalists.
Many of the Israelis repatriated on Tuesday were members of the Arab minority, who make up 20 percent of the Jewish state’s population.
A student, who identified himself only as Hussein, described a terrifying escape from the war zone.
“For four days, we have been sleeping in staircases and train stations,” he said.
“We had a really difficult time without food. I was in Ukraine in Kharkiv. It is the last year of my studies, but now I left everything to return.”
Uda Abu Saied, whose son Muhammad returned on the flight, said she had been terrified for his safety.
“I wasn’t sure if my son would return or not. He was in the most dangerous place,” she said.
“They went on their own with the bus for 24 hours, and I imagined all kinds of scenarios like a missile hitting and killing them, or maybe that they would get captured.”
The foreign ministry said Monday that one Israeli had been killed in Ukraine when the convoy he was travelling in came under fire as he tried to reach neighbouring Moldova.
The foreign ministry said authorities had contacted the man’s wife, who was in Ukraine with their children.
Iran’s state media said a first repatriation flight carrying nationals fleeing Ukraine landed in Tehran from Poland at around 7:00 am (0330 GMT).
In Tunis, a group of 106 Tunisian students and a baby arrived on a special repatriation flight by military aircraft from the Romanian capital Bucharest.
In emotional scenes, they were welcomed by their relatives.
Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi, who was at the airport, said a further 480 Tunisian students would be repatriated in the coming days via Romania or Poland.
“We went through a nightmare, through a war,” said engineering student Aymen Badri.
Fellow engineering student Hamdi Boussaa said getting across the border into Romania had been “a very complex operation”.
Some 1,700 Tunisians live in Ukraine, mostly students.
In all, more than 10,000 Arab students attend university in Ukraine, drawn to the former Soviet republic by its low cost of living.
Other Arab governments are also planning repatriation flights.
Morocco, which has around 8,000 students enrolled in Ukrainian universities, said it was organising special flights from Bucharest, Budapest and Warsaw on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Evacuees will be charged 750 dirhams (70 euros) per head for the one-way trip to Casablanca.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said it was scrambling to assist some 2,600 nationals trapped in Ukraine, hundreds of them students.
More than 660,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since Russia launched its invasion last week, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
That includes hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, mostly women and children, as well as third-country nationals.