An apartment building in eastern Ukraine hit by Russian shells on Thursday
An apartment building in eastern Ukraine hit by Russian shells on Thursday
Photo: AFP
Israelis fleeing Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport

Israelis, Arabs, Iranians in harrowing exodus from Ukraine

Foreign nationals escaping Ukraine all recount braving bombarded war zones in order to make their way back home; 'There were bombs everywhere so we decided to leave,' says one Israeli national

AFP |
Published: 03.01.22, 23:48
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.
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  • The evacuees had all been forced to make harrowing escapes by land through the war zone to board repatriation flights in neighboring countries, after Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian traffic at the start of the Russian invasion last week.
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    טיסת חילוץ של ישראלים מאוקראינה נחתה בישראל
    טיסת חילוץ של ישראלים מאוקראינה נחתה בישראל
    Israelis fleeing Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport
    (Photo: AFP)
    One of the first repatriation flights bringing home Israeli evacuees landed at Ben Gurion airport after taking off from Romania.
    Badr Tawil, 23, a student who fled Ukraine's second largest city Kharkiv, said he had escaped shortly before the Russian forces started bombarding the city.
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    An apartment building in eastern Ukraine hit by Russian shells on Thursday
    An apartment building in eastern Ukraine hit by Russian shells on Thursday
    An apartment building in eastern Ukraine hit by Russian shells on Thursday
    (Photo: AFP)
    "We just woke up once and we heard the sounds around us. There were bombs everywhere. So we decided to leave, just to leave Ukraine," he said.
    Many of the Israelis repatriated on Tuesday were members of the Arab minority, who make up 20 percent of the Jewish state's population.
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    נזקים מהפצצות ליד אוקראינה
    נזקים מהפצצות ליד אוקראינה
    Burned down vehicles near Kyiv
    (Photo: AP)
    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."
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    אוקראינה חרקוב תוצאות הרס אחרי הפצצה רוסית בניין הממשל
    אוקראינה חרקוב תוצאות הרס אחרי הפצצה רוסית בניין הממשל
    Kharkiv after the Russian shelling
    (Photo: Reuters)
    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 it had helped some 4,000 Israelis leave Ukraine since Russia invaded, adding that one Israeli - identified as Roman Brodsky - had been killed in Ukraine, when the convoy he was travelling in came under fire as he tried to reach neighboring Moldova.
    The ministry said authorities had contacted the Brodsky's wife, who was in Ukraine with their children.
    The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said it was scrambling to assist some 2,600 nationals trapped in Ukraine, hundreds of them students.
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    Russian troops move towards Ukraine on Friday
    Russian troops move towards Ukraine on Friday
    Russian troops move towards Ukraine
    (Photo: EPA)
    Iran's state media said a first repatriation flight carrying nationals fleeing Ukraine landed in Tehran from Poland at around 7:00 am local time.
    In Tunis, a group of 106 Tunisian students and a baby arrived on a special repatriation flight by military aircraft from the Romanian capital of Bucharest.
    Tunisian 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.
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    פליטים שברחו מאוקראינה מגיעים למחנה זמני בפולין
    פליטים שברחו מאוקראינה מגיעים למחנה זמני בפולין
    Displaced Ukrainians in Poland
    (Photo: Reuters)
    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 organizing special flights from Bucharest, Budapest and Warsaw on both Wednesday and Thursday.
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