Jewish Agencys Chechen rescue nearly over as Jews are evacuated

NEW YORK — The effort to rescue Jews from the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya is in its "last stage," said Chaim Chesler, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel's office in the former Soviet Union.

About 40 Chechen Jews remain in the Jewish Agency's refugee camp in P'atigorsk in the region, Chesler said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Moscow.

Another 100 Chechen Jews are with family members in other former Soviet republics, he said.

"I believe that in the next couple of weeks all of them will leave for Israel," he said of those who fled because of the ongoing war between Russia and Chechnya that began in late 1994.

In 1995, some 200 Chechen Jews went to Israel under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, many of them settling in Ashdod and Ashkelon, Chesler said.

Among the recent Chechen immigrants was the oldest immigrant in Israel's history — a 110-year-old Chechen woman.

Tzippora Mataiyeva, who was born in April 1885 in Chechnya, reportedly arrived last month in Israel with her 74-year-old son.

As the violence in the region continues, Chesler said, he expects the approximately 20 Jewish families remaining in Chechnya to leave soon as well.

Chechnya has some of the harshest living conditions of the former Soviet Union, with no running water, gas or electricity, Chesler said.

The Agency's next mission in the area is to "rescue the Jews" of Abkhazia, which declared independence from the Soviet republic of Georgia after a 1993 civil war, he said.

Between 800 and 1,000 Jews live there, Chesler said.

Living conditions are as bad as in Chechnya and the political situation "can explode any minute," he said.