Chaos as 'thousands' of Chasids on Uman pilgrimage get stuck on Ukraine border

Orthodox travellers refused entry due to Covid restrictions 'lack resources to ensure their basic needs'


Coronavirus restrictions preventing travel between Ukraine and Belarus have left hundreds - and possibly thousands - of Chasidic Jews on an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage stuck at the border .

The pilgrims had been trying to reach the Ukrainian town of Uman, the location of tomb of the founder of the Breslov Chasidic movement, Rabbi Nahman.

But this year they have been prevented from entering the country after Ukraine declared its borders closed for a month from August 28, in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Estimates of exactly how many pilgrims had been stopped at the border vary. According to the BBC, Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities put the number at around 700 on Tuesday, however other media outlets suggest the Ukrainian government now estimates 2,000 have arrived at the border.

At a meeting with Chasidic representatives in Ukraine, the country's Minister of Internal Affairs said: “We have deep respect for national and religious traditions. However, the global pandemic Covid-19 dictates other rules, where the safety and health of citizens - above all.

“We urge pilgrims to respect Ukrainian law and not to provoke the situation on the border of our state.”

Last night, an official at the ministry reiterated this message, telling reporters: “It’s getting colder and we suggest that they… go home.”

Many of the pilgrims remain camped out at the border, despite Ukraine signalling it would not waive its border policy.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told officials to help the pilgrims. The Red Cross Society also said it was providing assistance as the pilgrims lacked “enough resources to ensure their basic needs”.

The pilgrims began their journey despite pleas from both Ukraine and Israel for them to not travel this year. Many of the pilgrims live in Israel, and had attempted to travel via Belarus or Moldova.

The Israeli higher education minister, Ze’ev Elkin, tweeted: “I call on our citizens to return to Israel and obey the isolation guidelines upon their return.”

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