Israelis on Uman pilgrimage arrested for drug offences

Seven Israeli men were arrested by police at the Moldovan border on their way to the Ukrainian pilgrimage site


An armed police officer stays in guard as Hasidic Jewish pilgrims walk after pray at tomb of Rabbi Nachman for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, in town of Uman, some 200km from Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on September 25, 2022. - Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims flock despite war to Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage to Rabbi Nachman from Breslov (1772-1810), founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement that settled in Uman in the early 1800s. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

(JNS) Several Israeli men have been arrested in Ukraine for drug offenses while on their way to a Chasidic pilgrimage site in the country.

According to Israeli media reports, the men were detained in the town of Vinnytsia near the Moldovan border on suspicion of drug possession. Also near Vinnytsia, three Israelis were arrested after a car crash killed a Ukrainian woman.

All seven men were Chasidic pilgrims on their way to the Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

More than 20,000 Jews have arrived in the central region of Ukraine amid tightened security due to the war with Russia, local authorities said on Thursday.

Thousands of primarily Chasidic Jews make the trek to Uman every year ahead of the Jewish New Year to visit the burial site of an 18th-century rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, the founder of the Breslov Chassidic sect.

The predominantly male pilgrimage to Uman, located about 125 miles south of the capital Kyiv, has continued despite travel warnings issued by the Israeli government and the pleas of Ukrainian officials who had asked them to stay away because of the war.

"As of the morning of September 14, around 22,000 Chassidic pilgrims have already arrived in Uman, mostly from Israel, the United States and a number of European countries," Cherkasy Regional Military Administration head Ihor Taburets announced in a post on Telegram.

"Currently, the situation in Uman is stable and under control. Our security and defense forces are working in enhanced mode," added Taburets. In addition to Ukrainian police officers, Israeli security officials have been dispatched to the pilgrimage site, the statement said.

"Around 1,000 law-enforcement officers will ensure security during the celebrations. We prepared an additional 24 [bomb] shelters. In particular, [we] installed concrete mobile shelters," concluded Taburets, while calling on the faithful to "be as vigilant as possible, respond appropriately to air raid sirens and observe safety rules."

Earlier this week, Jerusalem and Kyiv reached an agreement on facilitating the Jewish pilgrimage to Uman. As part of the deal, border guards will work to speed up the entries and the posts will be open 24 hours a day in the days before and after Rosh Hashanah.

The agreement came after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government threatened to bar Israeli pilgrims from entering the country in retaliation for the deportation of Ukrainian tourists from Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday cautioned Israeli pilgrims against traveling to Uman, saying they must take full responsibility for their own safety. "God has not always protected us, both on Ukrainian and other European soil," Netanyahu said in unusual remarks against such visits.

The warning came after Zelenskyy cautioned the premier in a telephone conversation that Uman does not have enough bomb shelters for its residents, let alone tourists.

Local volunteers from the United Hatzalah rescue service, who operate throughout the year in Uman and in other parts of Ukraine, will be reinforced by those coming from Israel, the United States, and other countries for the duration of the holidays.

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