Moscow (The Times Groupe)- Russians are fleeing the country as a result of crippling sanctions coupled with a crackdown on freedom of speech. However, the mass exodus is worsening already long waiting lists for emigrants.
“You’ll be calling until the messiah comes,” one woman replied to a frantic query about embassy appointments on a Facebook group for Russian Jews planning to make Aliyah, or move to Israel.
Although Russians seeking to make the move may not need to wait until the Messiah arrives, they are facing prolonged delays even as their country sinks into crisis because of a war their president, Vladimir Putin, launched last month against Ukraine.
The wait time for appointments at Israeli embassies in Moscow and St. Petersburg has increased in recent years and can now be up to eight months. There is no doubt that this is proving to be a challenge, as many Jews there are making sudden plans to leave their long-time homes, driven by Putin’s ruthless crackdown on free speech, the shutdown of independent media outlets, and the criminalization of opposition to the war, as well as a wave of international sanctions on Russia that could push residents into poverty.
One artist in Moscow told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “Everyone who has any hope of becoming a citizen and leaving Russia is trying to do so.” A Russian artist, who went through the immigration process before the war and will soon leave for Israel, requested anonymity because of the fear of speaking to the press.
The Unuted Nations’ reports say more than 2.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24, and Israeli authorities expect tens of thousands of new immigrants as a result. As of the country’s most recent statistics, Israel has already accepted over 7,000 Ukrainian refugees, about half of whom are eligible for citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, which requires applicants to have at least one Jewish grandparent. The Jewish Agency, which oversees immigration into Israel, describes the influx as “unprecedented.”
Since the first flights arrived in Israel two weeks ago, the arrival of Ukrainian Jews and their relatives has captured the attention of the world. However, less attention was given to people on the other side of the war.
Nativ, the government department that deals with immigration from the former Soviet Union, reports that 1,400 Russians have been granted entry visas since February 24.
Considering that Russia has rapidly become a more difficult and dangerous place, the country has eased its immigration process for Russians, although the wait times at the embassy are unlikely to be impacted.
“At the present time, Russian citizens who wish to make aliyah are not required to have apostille signatures on their documents or supply police certificates,” a Nativ spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that Russians can use a “previously issued aliyah visa, as long as it does not expire, and are not required to declare that they intend to settle in Israel.”.”
It is too early to tell whether the “uptick in interest” from Russia will result in actual immigration or whether it is part of an ongoing trend, said the Jewish Agency to JTA.