NOVAYA HUTA, Belarus — More than 700 followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement who are trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, remain stuck in neutral territory along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, held up by measures banning foreigners from entering the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Belarusian authorities said on September 15 that, of the 734 pilgrims who have been staying in a tent camp for days near the Novaya Huta – Novi Yarylovychi border checkpoint, more than 100 are children.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ordered his government to talk to Ukrainian authorities to allow the pilgrims to enter the country.
However, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Yenin said on September 16 that, at this point, there is no way for the pilgrims to enter Ukraine.
“At the moment, the situation does not permit us to allow more [pilgrims], namely those who are stuck on the border with Belarus, to enter the country,” Yenin said, adding that the situation was under control.
Yenin added that those who arrived in Ukraine before the entrance ban was introduced on August 28 will be provided with the necessary security, while their contact with the local population will be minimized to help try to prevent any spread of the virus.
According to Yenin, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Israeli authorities have organized supplies with Kosher food and drinks for the pilgrims stuck along the border.
Meanwhile, police in the Cherkasy region, where the city of Uman is located, said on September 16 that security had been beefed up.
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.
Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said last week that, due to coronavirus restrictions, only about 3,000 pilgrims will come to Uman this year.
By the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah will be marked on September 18-20 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.