Report finds a growing exodus of Jews from Russia and Ukraine

If trends continue, both Russia and Ukraine could lose a majority of their Jewish populations in the years ahead, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research reports.

People gather in Habima Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, to watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a video address to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Sunday, March 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

(RNS) — A new report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research suggests that migration of Jews from both Russia and Ukraine to Israel may be reaching “exodus” levels.

The report, which draws on data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, finds that if trends continue, both Russia and Ukraine could lose a majority of their Jewish populations in the years ahead.

The reasons for the exodus are obvious. While an upsurge of Ukrainian Jews to Israel began in 2014 when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian military assault on Ukraine, which began in February 2022, is the major reason for the most recent mass migration.

Jews in both Ukraine and Russia have sought to escape the fighting and possibly avoid being drafted into the army. Nearly 8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded in neighboring countries and across Europe, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Israel, however, has absorbed a far larger number of Russian Jews since the start of the war.

In 2022, a total of 43,685 Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel from Russia and another 15,213 came from Ukraine, the Jewish Agency reported. Israel has a population of 9.6 million people, of which about 7 million are Jewish.

“If migration from these countries continues for seven years at the level seen in 2022 and early 2023, then the critical value indicating an ongoing exodus will be reached and, arguably, surpassed,” the report from the London-based Jewish Policy Research report states.

By that point, the report says, 80%-90% of the Jewish population of Ukraine will have emigrated, and 50%-60% of the Jewish population of Russia. (The report defines an exodus as the departure of between 50% and 75% of Jews in a country over the span of a decade.)

Tens of thousands of Jews live in Ukraine and Russia, though exact numbers are hard to verify. Ukraine, incredibly enough, has a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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In the three months between January and March this year, 18,610 immigrants arrived in Israel, according to Jewish Agency, an increase of 24% from the same period last year, with immigration from Russia accounting for more than three-quarters of the total, the Israeli paper Haaretz reported.

The former chief rabbi of Moscow recently urged fellow Jews to leave Russia immediately, warning that the country has fundamentally changed after the Ukraine invasion.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt’s comments came after the Russian Justice Ministry last week declared him a “foreign agent.” He fled to Israel last year after criticizing the war.

The report cites three big cases where Jewish immigration to Israel has historically accounted for an exodus: Nazi Germany in the 1930s; North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s; and the breakup of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. About half of Soviet Jews left at that time.

France, Belgium, Spain and Italy also saw surges in Jewish immigration to Israel in the first half of the 2010s, but that has subsequently declined. The percentage of Jews leaving those countries for Israel did not reach the level of an exodus, the report says.

Of course, not all Ukrainian Jews go to Israel. Some have also landed in the United States, but the report does not include that data.

The U.S. has admitted more than 280,000 Ukrainians since the Russian invasion of Ukraine one year ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security. About 22,000 Russians have also tried entering the United States through the country’s southern border since October 2022, the latest US Customs and Border Protection data shows.

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