Job seekers' journey to Promised Land ends in custody

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The Independent Online

Battered over the centuries by invasion, religious schisms, pogroms and economic collapse, Ukrainians have long been proud of their fortitude in adversity. But few in that troubled country can rival the example of three middle-aged men called Sergei, Viktor and Mikhail.

Battered over the centuries by invasion, religious schisms, pogroms and economic collapse, Ukrainians have long been proud of their fortitude in adversity. But few in that troubled country can rival the example of three middle-aged men called Sergei, Viktor and Mikhail.

The trio were in the custody of the Israeli authorities yesterday, waiting to be flown back home from Israel to Eastern Europe after a 1,800-mile odyssey in search of a job.

The men, aged between 35 and 40, set off two weeks ago from their desperately poor, corruption-riddled former Soviet republic with the dream of sneaking into Israel and joining the 150,000 other illegal immigrants making a living doing manual work in the Middle East's most developed consumer society.

They travelled from their home town near Kiev through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey into the Middle East, crossing the plains of Syria and Jordan, before finally reaching the shores of the Dead Sea last weekend.

There they plunged into the water with a view to floating across its 11-mile width to the Promised Land. Buoyed by its saline fluids, they floated, bobbed and paddled their way across the water under a burning sun for 14 hours, aided by a small blow-up water bed.

But the sea marks part of Israel's border with the Arab world, and is under constant surveillance by its armed forces.By the time the three Ukrainians reached the sea's western shore, the Israeli authorities were waiting for them, taking them first to hospital – they had sunburn and dehydration – and then to jail. "They will be going home very soon," an Israeli police superintendent, Rafi Yaffi, told The Independent.

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