Israel evacuates Ukrainian embassy staff, families of diplomats; issues a travel warning

The Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning for Ukraine on Friday and announced the evacuation of embassy employees and the families of Israeli diplomats on duty 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.”

He called on Israelis there to register online with the ministry. Some 4,000 Israelis did so on Friday, but there could be two or three times that number, according to Channel 13.

Israelis planning to travel to Ukraine should reconsider their decision, the ministry added.

The Foreign Ministry said it had decided to evacuate the families of Israeli diplomats and workers from the embassy in Kyiv. The embassy will continue to operate, with fewer than 10 diplomats remaining for now, Channel 13 reported.

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

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

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (center right) and President Isaac Herzog review the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony ahead of their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, 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 had enough forces on Ukraine’s borders to invade.

“The Russians have started a military exercise in Belarus which could soon become an offensive against Ukraine,” the anonymous official said.

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

Blinken did not detail the reasons for the latest State Department security alert calling on all US citizens to leave Ukraine.

“Put simply, we continue to see very worrying signs of Russian escalation, including the arrival of new forces on the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said in Melbourne, Australia.

“We are in a window where an invasion could start at any time and, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” Blinken added. The Olympics are due to end on February 20.

Russia has gathered more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine. He says he has no intention of invading, 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 Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, February 5, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The Foreign Office announcement came as the UK Jewish News reported that Jewish charities were making plans to evacuate Ukrainian Jews in the event war broke out, and amid growing warnings about Russian troop buildups at the borders of Ukraine.

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

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

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled. The Kremlin has accused Kiev of sabotaging the deal and Ukrainian officials have argued in recent weeks that its implementation would harm 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 deal, 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.

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