Photo Credit: BM für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur via Flickr
Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko was humiliated by Israeli immigration officials at Ben Gurion airport

If you’re an Israeli citizen and plan to fly to Ukraine soon, to visit Kiev or visit the grave of Reb Nachman of Breslov, you should bring plenty of cash and a good answer as to the purpose of your visit, Makor Rishon reported on Monday.

It turns out that in February, dozens of Israelis were detained at Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport. Some of them had to wait there for many hours, only to be sent back to Israel. Any attempt to deceive immigration officials may result in an investigation, delay, and deportation – apparently due to the attitude of the Israeli authorities in receiving Ukrainian visitors at Ben Gurion International.

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Personal reports from Israeli visitors about their treatment at the hand of Ukrainian officials range from impervious to humiliating.

Sources in the Israeli foreign ministry told Makor Rishon there’s a crisis in tourism between the two countries. Officially, the Ukrainians do not admit having decided to treat Israelis harshly. The official version is that the entrance control procedures have been tightened, nothing more.

According to the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel Gennady Nadulenko, “Some people come to Ukraine not for tourism, so the checks are more stringent. As of now, those who do not have cash and did not book a hotel room will not be allowed to enter. Likewise those who do not provide a reasonable explanation for their entry. This is not a question of reciprocity or revenge for the treatment of Ukrainian tourists who come to Israel. Before, all the Israelis were allowed to enter without any questions, and now we have begun to be more careful.”

Sources at Israel’s foreign ministry say, however, that the attitude toward Israeli tourists in Boryspil is in direct response to the bad treatment of Ukrainian tourists at Ben-Gurion. “The root of the problem is the cynical exploitation of the visa cancellation agreement between Israel and Ukraine,” those Israeli sources say.

“Basically, the agreement is positive, we worked for years to achieve it, and in the first years after its signing it functioned well. The number of tourists between the two countries rose, and we have reached the point where about half a million people travel back and forth between Israel and the Ukraine. But three years ago, there was a deterioration in the situation.”

According to the Israeli sources, people from Ukraine and other countries, including Georgia, began to exploit their ability to come to Israel without a visa in order to apply for asylum.

“They abuse the political asylum clause in order to reach Israel,” Israeli official say. “Once the request is filed, they are protected from deportation, and can work in Israel legally while the asylum request is being reviewed.”

Apparently, an entire industry has developed that guides migrant workers on their way to Israel, where they find cheap housing and labor while the review of their case may take as long as three years.

“The only place to stop this flood is at Ben Gurion Airport, and that’s what the Population Administration is trying to do,” say the officials.

As a result, Population Administration clerks refuse entry requests for many legitimate passengers from the Ukraine, including many tourists.

“Now the Ukrainians’ patience has run out at this point, and they have begun to do to the Israelis what we are doing to the Ukrainians here,” the same officials told Makor Rishon.

According to Interior Ministry data, the entry into Israel of 8,453 Ukrainian citizens was refused in 2017, and 7,307 in 2018.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s education minister, Lilia Grinovich, was subjected to humiliating questioning at Ben Gurion Airport, and the Interior Ministry had to get directly involved in releasing her.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the treatment of the mayor of Kiev and former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko, who came to Israel to attend a conference of mayors in Jerusalem two weeks ago. Klitschko and his two deputies were separated and detained at Ben Gurion Airport despite being members of an official delegation.

Klitschko was one of the leaders of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, and is a national hero in Ukraine and a well-known international figure.

The Immigration and Population Authority in the Interior Ministry explained, “The issue of the mayor of Kiev is related to security checks and not to the questioning of a border controller.”

That’s not much to go on, but it stands to reason that if you humiliate the mayor of Kiev, you should expect a bit of the same when you visit his city.

The IPA noted that asylum requests came down from 7,711 requests in 2017 to 1,765 in 2018, and only a dozen since the beginning of 2019.

So maybe it justifies treating Ukrainian dignitaries like garbage, if it cuts down on illegal dignitaries taking Israeli jobs from Africans.

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