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At least eight Ukrainian security officers died in clashes with separatists overnight Thursday and 18 others were wounded near the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.

Fierce fighting continued about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Donetsk, already under separatist control ahead of the presidential elections set for Sunday, May 25.

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Clashes also took place in the neighboring Lugansk region, also under the control of the “united army of southeastern Ukraine,” according to the website of the Voice of Russia.

On the same site, a headline made reference to the “Lugansk People’s Republic,” indicating the province had already declared its secession from Ukraine — with clear if unofficial recognition from Russia. Clashes in the northern part of the region led to a blown-up bridge over the Seversky Donetsk River and gunfire by “unknown individuals” directed at buses and civilians according to Interfax.

Despite the obvious chaos in Ukraine, and the rising numbers of Jews who are immigrating to Israel from that country – 40 percent more in the first three months of 2014 over the previous year — American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee director Alan Gill says he’s convinced Ukrainian Jews will not flee.

“People do think about leaving, but at the same time, the Jews are staying,” Gill told Ha’aretz this week. “This is their home. This is where they’ve been for decades, in some cases centuries. So we’re talking about a complicated situation. Immigration isn’t an easy thing to do, even in a time of great distress. If we look at how many have come to Israel in recent months, they’re small numbers compared with the total population.”

Nevertheless, Gill admitted that on a personal visit to Odessa, he himself “could feel the anxiety. It was tremendous.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.

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