Hasidic Breslov Pilgrims Leave Belarus-Ukraine Border After Being Stopped By COVID-19 Restrictions

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NOVAYA HUTA, Belarus -- Hundreds of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement, who were trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate....

NOVAYA HUTA, Belarus -- Hundreds of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement, who were trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, have begun leaving neutral territory along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border after they were refused entry to Ukraine over measures banning foreigners from entering the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said on September 18 that, of about 1,000 pilgrims who were waiting to cross into the country, only some 600 remain, the rest having left the area after Kyiv upheld the ban on entering the country amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

Tens of thousands of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement come to Uman every year to mark the Jewish New Year by praying at the grave of the movement's founder, Reb Nachman, who died there in 1810.

They began to gather on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border around September 14, trying to get to Ukraine and go to Uman, in the Cherkasy region, to celebrate the holiday that runs from September 18 to September 20.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said last week that, due to the coronavirus restrictions, only about 3,000 pilgrims will come to Uman this year.

The number of pilgrims traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah has increased dramatically since Ukraine gained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.


KYIV, Ukraine — Thousands of Hasidic Jews, stuck at the Ukrainian border for days due to coronavirus restrictions, have turned back without reaching their destination, the grave of a revered rabbi, officials said Friday.

About 2,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims had traveled through Belarus in hope of reaching the Ukrainian city of Uman to visit the grave of Nachman of Breslov, an important Hasidic rabbi who died in 1810.

Thousands of the Hasidic pilgrims visit the city each September for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. It’s celebrated Sept. 18-20 this year, and some pilgrims had managed to get to Uman before Ukraine closed its borders in late August amid a surge in COVID-19 infections. Thousands of others traveled via Belarus, which hasn’t barred foreign visitors from entering.

Authorities in Ukraine and Belarus said Friday that Hasidic pilgrims cleared the no-man’s land between the two countries where they camped for several days, some sleeping in makeshift tents and others on the ground. Belarusian border guards said that less then a dozen of them remained in the area.

At the same time, Ukraine’s border guards agency said Friday that it turned back several Hasidic pilgrims who tried to enter the country from Poland, Hungary and Romania.

As the pilgrims spent days stuck on the Ukrainian border, Ukraine and Belarus engaged in angry bickering over the standoff.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s presidential office accused Belarusian authorities of issuing misleading signals to the pilgrims that they would eventually be allowed to cross the border. Belarusian officials shot back accusing Ukraine of “inhumane” treatment of the pilgrims, and offered to provide buses to drive the pilgrims to Uman and back to Belarus.


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