A group of 140 refugees from a children’s home in Zhitomir, Ukraine, including 90 young children, arrived at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, where they were greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other cabinet ministers, ending a grueling, five-day journey through a deadly war zone.

The children, ages 2 to 12, were evacuated from Zhitomir’s Chabad-run Alumim children’s home on Feb. 24 as sirens began to wail and missiles exploded near the children’s home. Chabad fled westward to the Carpathian Mountains, where they found refuge from the constant shelling until March 1, when they escaped the war-torn country for the safety of Romania. There, they were assisted by Chabad of Cluj-Napoca (Klausenburg) in finding temporary accommodations while they planned their flight to Israel.

During their stay in Romania, the children recovered from their difficult ordeal with Chabad arranging local children’s entertainers to perform for them, and taking them to various playgrounds and attractions in the city.

On Sunday, March 6, the 140-person group—led by Chabad of Zhitomir’s directors, Rabbi Shlomo and Esther Wilhelm, and which included several dozen parents and staff members—boarded a charter flight to Tel Aviv, where they received a hero’s welcome from dignitaries and elected officials.

At the airport, Bennett acknowledged the people who helped ensure the children’s safety. “For a week-and-a-half now, they have been moving on the roads, fleeing battles and shelling without parents, but with the wonderful and dedicated Chabad emissaries who accompany them here,” said the prime minister.

“Thank you to the Chabad emissaries and all those involved in the sacred work of saving lives—the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Absorption, the Friendship Foundation and the Jewish Agency. “Anyone who saves one soul is as if he had saved the whole world,” Bennett concluded, quoting the Talmud.

“I’m simply overwhelmed,” Malka Bukiet, the director of the children’s home who led the evacuation, told Chabad.org shortly after landing in Israel. “We’ve been welcomed by a loving embrace from people of all walks of life. It feels incredible to be here.”

Bukiet says that while the children were traumatized by the evacuation from Zhitomir, they’re thrilled to be in the Holy Land. “This is their life’s dream, for the entire children’s home to visit Israel together. Sadly, it had to be under such circumstances. G‑d willing, next time we’ll visit for happier occasions.”

The Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund has been established to help provide assistance to the Jewish communities in Ukraine impacted by the war.

Click here for a prayer you can say and a list of good deeds you can do in the merit of the protection of all those in harm’s way.

Teacher Avital Bushma accompanied the children on the journey. (Credit: Hadas Porush/Pool Photo)
Teacher Avital Bushma accompanied the children on the journey. (Credit: Hadas Porush/Pool Photo)