Originally published March 9, 2022
As Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine drags into its third week, imagine for a moment the terrible reality of the refugees who are being routed from their homes, and the homes of their ancestors, to avoid the devastation of war. The mothers who place their children on buses, hoping to see them again, the fathers who take up arms to defend their country, and the families that are torn apart in all the chaos. This is the reality of Putin’s aggression, but it draws a distinct parallel to many of the darkest hours in history.
In 1948, when the State of Israel was only a dream and a declaration, the armies of the surrounding nations announced their intention to wipe out every Jewish man, woman, and child who lived within her borders. The word went out to all the Arab villages to briefly evacuate to avoid becoming collateral damage, and not to worry, they’ll return home in a few weeks. Over 600,000 Arabs heeded the call, fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Imagine if something similar happened today. Imagine if there were territories and villages in Ukraine that wanted Russia to invade. Imagine if, prior to Putin’s invasion, he told all these Russian sympathizers to get out of the way, head over to Belarus, Georgia, Crimea, or Russia itself to wait out the fighting until all the Ukrainians fled or were killed, and then they would finally have the Ukraine they wanted, which was another Russia proxy-state.
Now imagine, as many people around the world are praying will happen, that Ukraine defeats the invading army, forces them to retreat, and declares victory in the war. Now there is a refugee catastrophe on their hands, and they need to determine how to rebuild their state. Imagine if the Putin-sympathizing Ukrainians were told to just wait, because one day, the Russian forces will grow strong again, and the Ukrainians will be destroyed once and for all. Just wait.
Fast-forward 75 years. Is it possible to imagine that the great-grandchildren of these Russian sympathizers would still be refugees? That they would still be holding onto the promises of men that died decades before, house keys still in hand? That they would have committed countless terrorist attack on Ukraine over the decades, and still be labeled the victims of the long-forgotten war? Or that Ukraine would be debated in the international community of being an apartheid state?
To anyone unfamiliar with the sad history of the Jewish state, this would seem like an impossibility, something to be scoffed at. Everyone else, however, shakes their head in sadness that this is happening all over again.
So far, 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, have fled the war zone (according to the UN). That mind-boggling figure is the largest in Europe since World War II. To put it in perspective, go to a sold-out game in Yankee Stadium, look around, and multiply that by a factor of thirty.
The Jewish refugees are being helped by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Rabbi Moshe Azman, who is staying in Kiev to organize the evacuation. His son-in-law, Chaim Klimovitsky, is in neighboring Moldova, receiving these migrants, giving them food, and working on transportation to Israel.
Israel, like it has for the entirety of its existence, welcomed the Jewish refugees with open arms. Israel is no stranger to accepting Jewish refugees from around the world. Between 1948 and 1970, hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors made their way to Israel, mostly from Central European countries of Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and others. At the same time, nearly a million Jews were expelled from Arab nations (260,000 from Morocco alone). In the 1980s, Israel carried out missions to bring in Ethiopian Jews, and successfully emigrated almost 15,000 of them to the Jewish State.
This Ukrainian refugee crisis brings around a new challenge for the State of Israel: non-Jews who want to live there as well. No longer is Israel the war-torn, third-world country of the 1950s; it is now a thriving economy and democracy, the shining light of the Middle East. According to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, almost 90% of the 2,034 Ukrainian refugees that have already arrived in Israel are not Jewish. The Knesset will be meeting shortly on how to arrange for more refugees to come to the tiny nation.
This refugee crisis is caused by one man who is stuck with a 19th-century idea of how to run a nation. Putin’s idea of power and prestige is something that the world hasn’t seen in nearly a century, and the people of Ukraine are paying the price. The world waits in prayer that this war ends quickly, that the Ukrainian people are successful in defending their homeland, and these refugees get to return. The beginning of this crisis may follow the repetitive pattern of history, but hopefully the end will turn out differently for the Ukrainian people.
Moshe Hill is a political columnist and Senior Fellow at Amariah, an America First Zionist organization. Moshe has a weekly column in the Queens Jewish Link, and has been published in Daily Wire, CNS News, and other outlets. You can follow Moshe on his blog www.aHillwithaView.com, facebook.com/aHillwithaView, and twitter.com/HillWithView.