Ukraine will respond “harshly and promptly” to any unfriendly gestures, including Israel’s decision to suspend the visa-free regime and demand electronic permits of Ukrainians wishing to enter the country, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff said on Tuesday.
Andrey Yermak thanked Israel for its peacemaking efforts, but said Tel Aviv’s decision to restrict entry to refugees was “surprising.” Kiev will respond to “any steps that harm the interests of Ukraine and Ukrainians,” he said.
“I will remind all our partners: your peoples have long and clearly shown and said what you need to do. See and hear your constituents. They made their choice. They support Ukraine. They are with us. And you?” Yermak wrote on Facebook, in Ukrainian.
Yermak’s comments came after Tel Aviv announced that Ukrainians visiting the country would need to declare if they have an invitation from an Israeli citizen and wait for permission to enter. On Sunday, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said any Ukrainians with friends and family in Israel will be allowed to enter as refugees until the end of the conflict, but only a limited number of those without ties to the country would be admitted.
Interfax-Ukraine reported on Tuesday that the country is considering canceling its visa-free arrangement with Israel, on grounds that Tel Aviv had reneged on its side of the deal. However, the source for this claim was an anonymous government official in Kiev.
While Jewish Ukrainians qualify to immigrate to Israel under the country’s Law of Return, non-Jews do not – and therefore do not qualify for universal healthcare and other Israeli benefits, according to the Jerusalem Post. Ukrainian refugees are currently issued a three-month tourist visa, which does not allow them to work.
More than two million Ukrainians have reportedly left the country over the past three weeks, after Russia sent its troops to demilitarize and “denazify” the government in Kiev, citing the seven-year conflict over the breakaway Donbass republics. Ukraine has accused Russia of an unprovoked attack.