Update from Taglit-Birthright Israel (2/24/2022)
As news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reached Israel, Birthright Israel began working to support participants from those countries who are currently in Israel, offering the option to stay in Israel, or reunite with their families when possible.
There are three Birthright Israel groups from Russia and Ukraine currently in Israel, of which 26 participants are from Ukraine. Sixteen Ukrainian participants were supposed to fly home on Thursday morning, but while they were sitting on planes, bombing began in Kiev and flights were immediately canceled. Birthright then placed them at a hotel in Tel Aviv. Eighteen Russian participants are staying at another hotel in Tel Aviv, courtesy of Birthright, after their flight to Moscow was postponed.
Another 10 Ukrainian young people are currently touring Jerusalem in a mixed Birthright group with 10 participants from Russia.
Many Birthright Israel participants from Ukraine expressed shock as they anxiously followed the news.
Anastasia Bilig, a Kiev resident, said her thoughts are with her friends in the region. “It's horrible. It's terrible. And I have no words in my mind to describe it. I feel scared that these things can happen in the 21st century,” she said.
Lola Koktysh, also of Kiev, said she maintains hope despite her sense of shock. “I'm in full shock. I knew the situation was intensifying fast, but no one could predict what would happen today. And right now, everyone is afraid. There is panic, but people are still hopeful. And even in the light of the heartbreaking events, we are staying united,” she said.
Birthright Israel brings close to 5,000 participants from Russian-speaking countries on tours of Israel every year, with the majority coming from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Since its inception, more than 55,000 Russian speaking participants have taken part in a Birthright Israel trip. After a two-year series of suspensions due to Covid-19, trips resumed this month.
“We are committed to assisting all of our participants from Ukraine to get through this challenging time. Currently, they can choose to stay with family in Israel, return home on a flight through Warsaw, or even join an Onward Israel program for an additional month. Whatever solution works best, we will be there to support and care for them until they can reunite with their families in their hometown,” said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark.
Taglit-Birthright Israel offers a free, life-changing trip to Israel for young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 32 and, in doing so, transforms the Jewish future. Its mission is to give every Jewish young adult around the world, especially the less connected, the opportunity to visit Israel on an educational trip. Today, Birthright Israel is the largest educational tourism organization in the world that has given over 750,000 journeys to the state of Israel. Specifically with groups from the FSU, Birthright Israel works in partnership with Genesis Philanthropy Group to provide participants with various enrichment experiences while they are on their trip.