28.09.2020

ALEX FROM MONTREAL PERSONAL BLOG

This blog belongs to a fully trilingual person and translator/interpreter Alexandre (Alex) Nikolaev.

2,000 Hasidic Jews gather at Ukraine’s border where they are barred entry from Belarus – as Kiev accuses President Lukashenko of using them to aggravate tensions

  • Around 2,000 Jews from Belarus are massing on the border with Ukraine to make Jewish New Year pilgrimage
  • They have defied Kiev’s strict orders to journey to the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, in the Ukrainian town of Uman
  • Ukraine has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis on the frontier
  • Kiev says Lukashenko gave the Jews false hope in retaliation for its stance on recent pro-democracy protests 
  • Rabbi Nahman is the founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism and the pilgrims are all male 

By Ross Ibbetson For Mailonline

Around 2,000 Hasidic Jews have gathered at Ukraine‘s border with Belarus where their annual pilgrimage has been barred due to coronavirus restrictions.

Kiev has accused President Alexander Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis by giving the pilgrims hope that they could cross the frontier in retaliation for Ukraine’s support for the recent pro-democracy protests.  

Despite Ukraine’s strict travel restrictions, the pilgrims are seeking to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism, in the central Ukrainian town of Uman this weekend.

A statement from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office this afternoon told Belarus ‘to stop creating additional tension on the border’ and made pointed references to the ‘dubious’ August 9 poll that saw Lukashenko re-elected. 

It comes after Lukashenko visited Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to receive military and economic backing worth £1.15 billion, in the face of Western outcry over last month’s ballot.

An image release by Ukraine's border guard agency shows hundreds of Jews gathered at the checkpoint on Wednesday as they hope to make their annual pilgrimage to Uman

An image release by Ukraine’s border guard agency shows hundreds of Jews gathered at the checkpoint on Wednesday as they hope to make their annual pilgrimage to Uman

A young boy kneels before armed Ukrainian border guards near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region

A young boy kneels before armed Ukrainian border guards near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region

Armoured vehicles are seen near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims are planning to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine on Wednesday

Armoured vehicles are seen near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims are planning to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine on Wednesday

Despite Ukraine's strict travel restrictions, the pilgrims are seeking to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism, in the central Ukrainian town of Uman this weekend

Despite Ukraine’s strict travel restrictions, the pilgrims are seeking to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism, in the central Ukrainian town of Uman this weekend

Every Jewish New Year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews make the pilgrimage to the central Ukrainian town of Uman to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.

This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from September 18 to 20.

The presidency said roughly 2,000 pilgrims, mostly from Israel, had congregated on the border ‘believing rumours that the Ukrainian border with Belarus was open’, the presidency said.

The presidency urged Minsk not to spread ‘false encouraging statements that may give pilgrims the impression that the Ukrainian border may still be open to foreigners’.

This afternoon’s statement pointedly referred to the recent protests which have erupted in Belarus following the dubious election results of last month which handed Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

The United States and the European Union have criticised the election as neither free nor fair and urged the Belarusian leader to engage in talks with the opposition, a demand he rejected. 

‘We must add that the personal offence taken by certain individuals within the de facto Belarusian government today extends, unfortunately, to the plane of interstate relations.’ The Ukrainian presidency said.

‘It will be recalled that Ukraine took a neutral position on the political crisis, which was provoked by the dubiously organised voting in the election of the President of the Republic of Belarus on August 9 this year. 

‘We stand for democratic values shared on the European continent, and we believe that every country is obliged to comply with its commitments to ensure human rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by international conventions.’

Despite tight restrictions on foreign entry, Ukrainian security chiefs expect thousands more to attempt to make the pilgrimage over the coming days.

   Jewish pilgrims sit on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. About 700 Jewish pilgrims are stuck on Belarus' border due to coroavirus restrictions that bar them from entering Ukraine. Thousands of pilgrims visit the city each September for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year

Jewish pilgrims sit on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. About 700 Jewish pilgrims are stuck on Belarus’ border due to coroavirus restrictions that bar them from entering Ukraine. Thousands of pilgrims visit the city each September for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

Jewish pilgrims on the road as well as lorries backed up behind them at the border crossing between Ukraine and Belarus today

Jewish pilgrims on the road as well as lorries backed up behind them at the border crossing between Ukraine and Belarus today

A Jewish man remonstrates with the border guards on Wednesday

A Jewish man remonstrates with the border guards on Wednesday

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims gather on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Jewish pilgrims gather on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Ukrainian border guards block the road on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Ukrainian border guards block the road on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Ukrainian border guards block the road on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Ukrainian border guards block the road on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus, Tuesday

Jewish pilgrims dance as they gather on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus

Jewish pilgrims dance as they gather on the Belarus-Ukraine border, in Belarus

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest in a neutral zone near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine, on Tuesday

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest in a neutral zone near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine, on Tuesday

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest between trucks near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest between trucks near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Pictures show thousands of men at the Novi Yarylovychi checkpoint on Wednesday facing off with Ukrainian border guards.

Lukashenko meets with Putin to secure £1.15bn loan

Lukashenko visited Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday as 150,000 flooded the streets of Minsk demanding his resignation.  

Putin pledged a £1.15 billion loan to Belarus and fulfil all its obligations under a union treaty between the neighbours.

Speaking at the start of the talks, Putin emphasised the Belarusians themselves must settle the situation without any foreign meddling.

He commended Lukashenko for his pledge to conduct a constitutional reform.  

Mr Putin hailed it as a ‘timely and reasonable’ move that would help ‘reach a new level in the development of the political system’. 

Mr Putin emphasised that Russian paratroopers who arrived in Belarus for joint drills that began on Monday will leave the country after the exercise.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after the four-hour talks that the leaders did not discuss the possibility of basing Russian forces in Belarus.  

Russia and Belarus have a union treaty envisaging close political, economic and military ties but they have often engaged in acrimonious disputes.

Before the election, Mr Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pressing Belarus to abandon its independence.  

Last night pilgrims set up tents and slept on the roadside as they hoped to make it across the frontier.

‘I spent the night on the bus, but most of them spent the night right on the road, some gathered branches in the forest and lit fires,’ one pilgrim, who gave only his first name, Benjamin, said by phone from the restricted zone on Tuesday morning. ‘We have no food or water.’

The guards said they had been forced to stop traffic on Monday night on the crossing at Novi Yarylovychi between Belarus and northern Ukraine because the pilgrims were in the way.

By early afternoon on Tuesday some three dozen waiting trucks had moved through and more than a hundred police and national guardsmen were setting up tents for the night.

‘The situation is under control,’ Ukrainian border guard official Oleksander Pavlik told reporters, adding that the pilgrims had been given food and water.

Ukraine, which has recorded high numbers of new coronavirus cases in recent weeks, imposed a ban on the entry of foreigners on August 26 to September 28 due to the epidemic.

It said the ban was partly in response to a plea from Israel, where many of the pilgrims come from, to limit the event, for fear it would be a coronavirus hotspot.

‘I don’t know who promised to whom the passage of 3,000 citizens,’ the head of Ukraine’s border service Serhiy Deineko told the group on the border. ‘You were deceived.’

Pilgrims are not among exceptions to Ukraine’s ban on movement and its foreign ministry urged all travellers to respect the rules to avoid difficulties at checkpoints.

It also asked the Belarusian side not to register people to cross who are not allowed into Ukraine.

BelTa state agency quoted Belarusian authorities said they allowed returning pilgrims back and said numbers were growing.

‘All of them… are awaiting a decision on admission by Ukrainian side,’ it said. ‘As of the morning of September 15, the work of the Ukrainian checkpoint… has not been resumed.’

The Ukrainian authorities said Belarus had allowed 200 more pilgrims into the border area since Tuesday morning.

The Rabbi Nachman Foundation issued a statement saying it had asked Ukrainian officials to allow the pilgrims to come.

‘Therefore, in this situation, we ask you to make an exception and let them into Ukraine.’

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine

A Jewish pilgrim, who plans to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, stands in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

A Jewish pilgrim, who plans to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, stands in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020. Picture taken September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020. Picture taken September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather at Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine for a pilgrimage from the territory of Belarus, gather in front of Ukrainian service members near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Ukrainian and Israeli governments issued a joint statement earlier this year asking pilgrims to cancel their trip because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

Ukrainian and Israeli governments issued a joint statement earlier this year asking pilgrims to cancel their trip because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest on the roadside near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, rest on the roadside near Novi Yarylovychi crossing point in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather near a border crossing point in Gomel Region, Belarus September 15, 2020

Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather near a border crossing point in Gomel Region, Belarus September 15, 2020

A general view shows Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims planning to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus gather in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

A general view shows Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims planning to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus gather in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

Novi Yarylovychi crossing point, where Jewish pilgrims, who plan to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, gather in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine September 15, 2020

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