‘Glory to Ukraine’ chanted in Tel Aviv as Zelensky pleads for help from Israel

As the sun sets on Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Galina Balchenko cries. She is holding a banner reading “Israel supports Ukraine.” A 68-year-old immigrant waits for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech on Sunday to appear on a huge screen in front of Israeli lawmakers.

Belchenko came to Israel from Ukraine 15 years ago. Her 60-year-old brother and his family remained in Sumy, a Ukrainian border town heavily damaged by Russian bombing and a siege that the United Nations Office for Refugees (UNHCR) said led to “very worrying” conditions. Residents are facing “potentially fatal” shortages of food, water and medicine.

“So many people died there, so many children,” Balchenko sighs. “The city is so… [longue pause] … as if there was no city. »

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Balchenko was among the thousands who came to watch Zelensky’s speech, projected onto the outside wall of Israel’s largest theater.

The crowd filled the square with the blue and yellow colors of the country’s flag and shouts of “Glory to Ukraine” – “Glory to Ukraine”.

On the square, Ukrainian and Russian were heard no less, if not more, than Hebrew. Among those present were a significant number of recently arrived refugees fleeing the war, many of whom have relatives in Israel.

Sisters Arina, 8 (left), and Anastasia, 14, attend a live screening of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s speech to Israeli lawmakers at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Sunday, March 20, 2020. Miriam Hershlag/The Times of Israel )

Sisters Arina, 8, and Anastasia, 14, arrived in Israel on Friday. They joined their relative Ina Naiper, who immigrated to Israel two years ago and lives in Ashkelon.

Niper and her husband’s parents stayed in Ukraine, and she says they talk to each other several times a day.

Two friends Lisa (left) and Lyudmila attend a live screening of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s speech to Israeli lawmakers at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, Sunday, March 20, 2020. (Miriam Hershlag/The Times of Israel)

Ludmila, 23, who did not give her last name, also arrived just two days ago after a 48-hour bus ride to Budapest and a 2.5-hour flight to Tel Aviv. His/Her message: Don’t use Yango, the popular Russian car delivery service in Tel Aviv. “If people use Yango, they support killings in Ukraine,” she said.

Her friend, 26-year-old Lisa Dubinskaya, who moved to Israel from Kyiv a few years ago, said: “It is very hard for me to be here and not there. This is war. This is genocide. This is murder.”

She rejected statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is liberating Ukraine from neo-Nazis.

“Half of my family is from Russia,” she said. “My family does not need help. »

Alex, an ethnic Russian immigrant to Israel, attends a live screening of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s speech to Israeli lawmakers at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Sunday, March 20, 2020. (Miriam Hershlag/The Times of Israel)

Alex, who was born in Russia, agrees. “I love Russia, but what is happening is terrible. We must stop this. »

He said that none of his Russian relatives, friends or colleagues in Israel sided with Putin. When asked why, he replied that it was because they did not watch Russian television propaganda.

Itay, 10, wears a Purim prison outfit with the words “TO JAIL” on it during a live speech by President Zelensky of Ukraine to Israeli lawmakers at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Sunday, March 20, 2020. (Photo: Miriam Hershlag/The Times of Israel)

Itay and Omer were among the few Israelis present at the rally who had no direct personal ties to Ukraine. They were spotted by Itai’s Purim costume, a black box with bars, similar to a prison cell, with the inscription “TO JAIL” (a pun on behalf of the Russian leader and the prison). His father Omer said they came at Itay’s request to protest what was happening in Ukraine.

As for Zelensky’s speech, Omer considered it “a little aggressive towards Israel.”

Protesters in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speak via videoconference on March 20, 2022. (Jack Ghez/AFP)

“We understand his plight, and we also believe that Israel should do more for Ukraine,” the father said. “But the comparison to the Holocaust was inappropriate and may have hurt his speech. »

On the other hand, for Lyudmila this comparison was appropriate. She described the Israelis as “kind people who understand what we’re dealing with because they went through something similar with Hitler a long time ago. »

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