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Jewish New Year: Virus restrictions deter pilgrims on Ukraine-Belarus border



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  • Coronavirus pandemic

Jewish pilgrims gather at the Novi Yarylovychi crossing point

copyright to the imageReuters

image captionUkrainian and Israeli governments have urged Hasidic Jews not to travel to Uman this year

Hundreds of Hasidic Jews are stranded on the border between Ukraine and Belarus as coronavirus restrictions hamper an annual pilgrimage.

Pilgrims were traveling to the central Ukrainian city of Uman to visit the tomb of Rabbit Nahman, the founder of the Hasidic Breslov movement.

Every year thousands make the journey to mark the Jewish New Year, which runs from September 18-20 to 2020.

As pilgrims attempted to enter Ukraine this week, border guards stopped them.

The pilgrims left though last month the Ukrainian and Israeli governments urged them not to travel to Uman this year, for fear of a rise in coronavirus infections.

copyright to the imageReuters
image captionUkrainian authorities said Hasidic Jews were not exempt from the travel ban

Ukraine has restricted entry to foreigners from August 28 to September 28 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.


Israel has imposed a new national blockade to contain the coronavirus, with severe restrictions taking effect in the Jewish New Year.

Despite this, Ukrainian authorities said hundreds more pilgrims are expected to arrive at the country’s borders in the coming days.

On Tuesday, estimates changed as to how many of them were already on Ukraine’s borders.

copyright to the imageReuters
image captionTraffic was to be stopped at the border Monday evening
Belarusian and Ukrainian authorities put the number at around 700, but The Times of Israel reported that there were at least 1,000 pilgrims stranded at the border.

Photos from the border show dozens of Jews dressed in traditional clothing and carrying luggage as they wandered along a road full of trucks.

On Monday night, Ukrainian guards said they had to stop traffic at the Novi Yarylovychi checkpoint because pilgrims were on the road.

Some pilgrims had set up makeshift tents, while others slept in their luggage in front of trucks.

“I spent the night on the bus, but most of them spent the night on the streets, some gathered branches in the woods and lit fires,” a pilgrim told Reuters news agency. “We have neither food nor water.”

The Belarusian Red Cross Association said the pilgrims did not have “sufficient resources to provide for their basic needs” and aid was being provided.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has told officials to provide assistance to pilgrims, accusing Ukraine of “closing its borders” and leaving hundreds of people in neutral territory.

The Ukrainian government has insisted it will not waive travel restrictions.

“I do not know to whom the passage of 3,000 citizens was promised,” Ukrainian border guard chief Serhiy Deyneko told pilgrims at the border. “You were deceived.”

copyright to the imageReuters
image captionUkrainian border guard chief Serhiy Deyneko talks with Jewish pilgrims at the border

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the situation with Mr Deyneko, his office said. Ukraine had full control of the situation, he added.

The Belarussian border service said it was helping pilgrims return to Belarus. according to state news agency Belta.

Meanwhile, many pilgrims remain stationed at the border, hoping Ukrainian authorities will allow them to enter the country before the Jewish New Year, Belta reported.

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