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BAT YAM, (Israel): With Russian forces in neighbouring Syria, Washington its unswerving ally and about a million citizens with ties to the former Soviet Union, Israel is seeking a delicate balance in the Ukraine crisis.

For residents of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv and home to many Jews with roots in Russia and Ukraine, the Russian invasion launched Thursday triggered shock and concern for relatives.

“I didn’t expect it, when I got the message from my parents (in Ukraine),” said Natalia Kogan.

“People are stressed,” added the 57-year-old, who works at a supermarket catering for people from the former USSR, where Ukrainian and Russian beers are stocked side-by-side on shelves.

Max, a 33-year-old who left Russia when he was eight, told AFP he “understood” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s concerns about Ukraine pursuing NATO membership.

“But that doesn’t justify an invasion,” he said, requesting that his last name be withheld.

“The most frustrating (thing) is that normal people are suffering,” he added, dismissing suggestions of tensions between Russians and Ukrainians within Israel.

He called on Israel to avoid taking sides and focus on helping civilians, including by evacuating any Ukrainian Jews who want to leave.

“What else can Israel do?”

Calls for neutrality on the streets of Bat Yam mirrored the official Israeli posture presented Thursday hours after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

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