Jewish pilgrims stuck between Belarus and Ukraine over COVID-19 restrictions

Jewish pilgrims stuck between Belarus and Ukraine over COVID-19 restrictions

Between 1,000 and 2,500 Jewish pilgrims got stuck at Belarus-Ukraine border after the Ukrainian government tightened border controls and crossing restrictions over COVID-19 pandemic.

Hundreds of Hasidim pilgrims, seeking to visit a venerated rabbi’s grave in Ukraine’s Uman to mark Jewish New Year, are stranded at several border crossing points, according to media reports. Roughly a half of them crossed the Belarus frontier yet were unable to enter Ukraine, where they were met by a strong militarized border guard force.

The pilgrims have flocked to Belarus over the past few days, seeking to get into Ukraine by land. The Hasidim, who mostly came from Israel, are gathering to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the Ukrainian town of Uman. The town is he burial place of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement.

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While the pilgrims can enter and leave Belarus freely, Ukraine closed its border to foreigners for four weeks on August 28, citing a worsening COVID-19 situation.

“A group of 170 Hasidim managed to find a loophole and according to their account, in return for a payment ($3,000 each) various authorities agreed to let them across the border [Monday] evening,” the Secretariat of Bratslav Hasidim said in a statement. “In practice, as a result of the arrival of hundreds more Hasidim to the border crossing, the Ukrainian border guard deployed forces and the Ukrainian border commander arrived himself to the location to make sure no one enters.”

The stranded pilgrims, including children, have experienced a shortage of food and water at the site. The Secretariat blamed the Israeli government for the situation and demanded the country’s foreign ministry intervene immediately.

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