Israel’s immigration minister, Sofa Landver, ended a visit to the Ukraine this week without managing to settle the contentious issue of pensions for immigrants to Israel.
Unlike Russians living in Israel, who receive their full pensions from the Russian government, Ukrainian olim do not receive any funds. This includes a large number of men who took part in the cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the reactor accident in 1996 and suffer from ill health as a result.
In May 2008, Israel and Ukraine signed an agreement guaranteeing Ukrainian pensions for anyone who made aliyah after August 24, 1991 — the day Ukraine declared independence. According to the agreement, 23,000 Ukrainian pensioners were due to start receiving payments on January 1, 2009.
However, the agreement is yet to be ratified by the Ukrainian parliament.
Edward Dolinsky, chair of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, who attended the meeting with Mrs Landver and Ukrainian MPs, expressed optimism.
“There is some progress, as the Ukraine recognises its obligations, and I am 100 per cent sure that there will be a solution. I can’t say when, though.”
The lack of pensions is a particular problem for liquidators of the Chernobyl nuclear plant living in Israel.
“Despite the personal promise of President Yushchenko that he would solve the problem, two years have passed and there is still no answer from him,” said Alexander Kalantrysky, who oversaw the construction of the peel built around the reactor after the disaster, and now heads the liquidators’ union in Israel. “PM Tymoshenko does not answer either, nor does the Ukrainian representative at the UN.”
According to Mr Kalantrysky, the liquidators do not care about the money, but want recognition and respite care in order to improve their health.
“In total, 1,233 liquidators registered in Israel. More than 300 are no longer alive. The Ukrainian officials want to pass the law after we are all dead. At first I thought this was discrimination based on country of residence, but today I understand that it is the state’s antisemitism,” he said.
Ukrainians who move to Russia, Belarus, Georgia, the Baltics, Spain, Slovakia or the Czech Republic, receive full pensions. Immigrants to the US, Canada and Israel only do if they have disabled status approved before they move.