A flight of 90 immigrating Ukrainian Jewish refugees arrived in Israel on Wednesday, who described life amid Russian rocket attacks as a “living hell.”
“The most common sound we would hear was the air raid siren,” said 41-year-old Sergei Pumreykov, who arrived with his wife, Ludmilla, and eight-year-old daughter, Ksenia.
“We lived on the 10th floor of our building and every time the siren wailed, I’d grab my wife and daughter and run as fast as possible down the stairs to the basement shelter,” Sergei said. “I would encourage Ksenia by saying it was a game to see who could get there fastest. It was terrifying. There were constant power outages and we were sitting for hours in the cold and dark. We realized we couldn’t live like that anymore.”
The situation, he said, was a “living hell.”
Sergei, who hopes to continue working as a computer programmer in Israel, said he and his wife had been interested in moving to Israel but the move was complicated by coronavirus travel restrictions and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The flight, chartered by the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews, follows up on over 70,000 immigrants who arrived in Israel in 2022, the highest figure in 23 years and more than double the number from last year.
According to the Jewish Agency, almost three-quarters of 2022’s immigrants came from either Russia, Ukraine or Belarus.
While the majority of the Ukrainian immigrants arrived in the early weeks and months of the conflict after fleeing westward into Poland and Moldova, recent efforts by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and partner agencies have focused on helping Jews who chose to stay behind but were later forced out of their homes by the war.
The new Israeli citizens were greeted by Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ofir Sofer, IFCJ President Yael Eckstein, and other dignitaries.
“I am here to say that you have come home,” Sofer told the immigrants.