Ukraine, Elkin to Breslover Chassidim at Ukraine Border: Return to Israel

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -
Ukrainian law enforcement officers stand guard at Novi Yarylovychi border crossing point, where thousands of Israelis planning to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus gather in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine, Tuesday. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Ukraine on Thursday strongly warned thousands of Israelis who have been stuck on its border for days that it won’t allow them into the country due to coronavirus restrictions.

Ukrainian authorities said about 2,000 people have gathered at the border with Belarus, in hope of traveling to Uman to daven at the kever of the Rebbe Reb Nachman of Breslov, zy”a, on Rosh Hashanah.

Some 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.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry official Mykhailo Apostol reaffirmed that the Israelis will not be allowed to cross the border.

“Ukraine has shut its borders to foreigners, and no exclusions will be made for the Hasidic pilgrims,” Apostol told reporters. “It’s getting colder and we suggest that they come back to Belarus, buy tickets and go home.”

Also, Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin posted Thursday that efforts to help the pilgrims enter Ukraine have failed, and called on them to return to Israel.

“Despite many efforts made to assist Israelis who tried to enter Ukraine through Belarus or Moldova, a negative final answer was received this morning from the Ukrainian authorities,” the minister wrote.

He said, “The Ukrainians have announced that they will not allow entry through border crossings or any small delegation. I call on our citizens to return to Israel and obey the isolation guidelines upon their return.”

As thousands of Jews spent days in the no-man’s land between Belarus and Ukraine, some sleeping in makeshift tents and others on the ground, Ukraine and Belarus bickered over the standoff.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s presidential office accused Belarusian authorities of issuing misleading signals to the Israelis 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.

Ukraine’s presidential office alleged Wednesday that Belarusian authorities’ actions could be rooted in the latest tensions between the two neighbors following Belarus’ controversial presidential election.