‘It’s God’s work’: Christians are helping Ukrainian Jews escape the war to Israel

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(JTA) — She risks her life to get Jewish people out of bombed-out parts of Ukraine’s capital city, but Nataliya Krishanovski doesn’t exactly see her actions as humanitarian work.

Krishanovski, 60, is part of a 20-person team of Christians who for years have been helping Ukrainian Jews immigrate to Israel because they believe doing so helps fulfill biblical prophecies and makes up for antisemitic persecution.

“It’s God’s work, not humanitarian work,” Krishanovski, who works in the Ukraine office of the Christians for Israel movement, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone call.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24, the Christian Zionist organization has used connections and contingency plans they have spent years building to help hundreds of Ukrainian Jews leave the country — representing a significant portion of the thousands of Ukrainian Jews who have fled during the war so far.

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Krishanovski said she has been driving Jewish families in the Kyiv region to rendezvous points from where other drivers take them to neighboring Moldova. She called the work meaningful on multiple levels, not least through “the look I see in the eyes of the families I bring,” she said in the interview, holding back tears. “Their eyes look like they have been delivered.”

RELATED: All of our ongoing Jewish Ukraine coverage 

Krishanovski believes what is happening in Ukraine is the realization of the prophecy spelled out in Jeremiah 1:14, in which the prophet tells of God’s warning that “from the north shall disaster break loose upon all the inhabitants of the land.”

Fear still creeps in when Krishanovski is on the road, especially when she passes a burned-out car or building. Thousands have lost their lives in the war, including many civilians on the Ukrainian side.

To conquer the fear, Krishanovski, a mother of one, recites Psalms 91 — “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” — until she feels “steady enough to drive on,” she told JTA.

Ukrainian Jews board buses arranged by Christians for Israel to take them to Moldova, March 7, 2022. (Courtesy of Christians for Israel)

The Jewish refugees — a tiny minority within the exodus of millions of Ukrainians — also need fortitude to leave.

Ludmilla Zibulka, a 77-year-old Jewish widow, left the eastern city of Kharkov this week along with thousands of other refugees. With the help of Christians for Israel, she was taken on a heated bus with warm food all the way from her home to Israeli officials in Moldova, where the officials were helping Jews like her and their relatives immigrate to Israel.

“I took my passport, looked at my house with tears in my eyes and said goodbye,” said Zibulka, who has a son living in Israel. She had 15 minutes to collect a few items as artillery was falling near her home. “It was very scary and very painful.”

The fact that Christians helped get Zibulka and her son to Israel, she said, “is very special. It shows that God really is love.”

Christians for Israel belongs to a loose network, headquartered in the Netherlands, of Christian Zionist congregations in dozens of countries.

In Ukraine, Christians for Israel has helped thousands of Jews make aliyah, or immigrate to Israel, over the past 25 years, and it has been preparing for this moment since 2014, said the office’s director Koen Carlier, a Belgian citizen who has been living in Ukraine for years with his Ukraine-born wife, Ira.

That year, when Russia annexed part of Ukraine, the Carliers directed the office to begin working on evacuation plans. In April, as Russia began to ratchet up pressure on Ukraine, they began stocking up on supplies and procured several mini-buses.

But they needed Jewish allies to gain access to Jews interested in making aliyah. And that’s not always an easy task for a Christian organization in a country where the main engine of Jewish community life is Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish movement whose rabbis are vigilant against attempts by Christians to seek Jewish converts.

Christians for Israel turned to Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, a chief rabbi of the Netherlands and a friend of Roger van Oordt, the former director of Christians for Israel and son of the movement’s founder.

“I’m the matchmaker of Christians for Israel,” said Jacobs, who is one of the founders of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, a Chabad-affiliated group. “If they need contact with a rabbi in Ukraine who doesn’t know them, I can vouch that Christians for Israel is 100% kosher.”

Ludmilla Zibulka prepares to board a bus in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, arranged by Christians for Israel to take her to Moldova, March 7, 2022. (Courtesy of Christians for Israel)

Carlier appears to be torn between two kinds of emotions as he helps bring Jews from the Ukrainian-Moldovan border to Chisinau, Moldova’s capital city, and into Romania in preparation of their immigration to Israel.

On the one hand, “it’s sad to see people, elderly people, having to leave everything behind and going away with pain in their eyes,” he said. On the other hand, their departure, in his view, “is a confirmation of the divine covenant, God’s promise. Sometimes the Bible is very clear when God mentions certain things about the times we are living through. This is one of those times.”

Zibulka said going to Israel fills her with hope.

“It’s a land promised to us. And I think it’s a land that will return our love,” Zibulka said.


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