Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

Hasidic Jewish pilgrims dance as they gather in front of Ukrainian border guards at a checkpoint near Novaya Guta, Belarus, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (AP Photo)
Short Url
Updated 18 September 2020

Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

  • The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev
  • Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko said that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point

KIEV: More than 1,000 Jewish pilgrims who massed for several days along Ukraine’s border gave up hope of entering the country on Friday after being turned back due to coronavirus restrictions.
The Orthodox-Jewish believers including hundreds of children camped out this week in no-man’s land between the Ukrainian and Belarusian border crossings ahead of Jewish New Year celebrations this weekend.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev.
Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko told AFP Friday that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point.
Belarus, which earlier said the pilgrims should be allowed to visit holy sites in Ukraine, confirmed that fewer than a dozen people were attempting to cross.
Belarus’s Border Committee representative Anton Bychkovskiy said pilgrims were “leaving the border en masse” and traveling onwards to nearby cities by bus and taxi.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday wished Jews a happy New Year and acknowledged the country had been “forced to limit mass events” over safety concerns.
The believers — mainly Israeli, but also American and French — departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month urged them not to travel because of the pandemic.
An Israeli minister on Thursday called on those camping out on the border to return home and uphold quarantine rules on arrival in Israel.
Kiev closed its borders for most of the month of September citing a growing number of coronavirus infections, but the pilgrims attempted to bypass the restrictions by traveling through Belarus.
Ukrainian border guards announced Friday they had arrested several pilgrims, including Israeli and US citizens, trying to enter the country illegally from Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Kiev has reported more than 169,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,468 fatalities. On Thursday, officials registered a record one-day increase in infections.
The standoff on the border aggravated strained ties between Kiev and Minsk, which have traded barbs over disputed presidential elections in Belarus last month.
Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko earlier instructed officials to negotiate a travel corridor with Ukraine and offered to provide buses to transport religious believers to holy sites in Ukraine.
Kiev in turn accused Belarusian authorities of giving false hope to the Hasidic pilgrims that they would be allowed to travel to Uman.
Both Ukraine and Israel are keen to avoid a spike in coronavirus infections.
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown on Friday to tackle one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates, despite public protests over the new blow to the economy.
The three-week shutdown starts just hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Meanwhile, up to 3,000 Hasidic Jews have arrived in Uman for the celebrations entering Ukraine before the ban, police said.
Law enforcement has tightened security near Rabbi Nahman’s tomb where pilgrims have congregated.


Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

Updated 24 October 2020

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

  • There has been an upsurge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country
  • The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path toward withdrawing American troops from the conflict

KABUL: A suicide bomber struck near an education centre in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 18 people in the latest attack to rock the conflict-wracked country.
Violence on the ground has spiked in recent weeks despite the Taliban and the Afghan government holding peace talks in Qatar to end the country's grinding war.
The suicide attack, which also wounded 57, happened late afternoon at the centre, which offers training and courses for students in higher education in a western district of Kabul.
"A suicide bomber wanted to enter the education centre," Tareq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
"But he was identified by the centre's guards after which he detonated his explosives in an alley."
He said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.
"I was standing about 100 metres from the centre when a big blast knocked me down," said local resident Ali Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin who was wounded in the blast.
"Dust and smoke was all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre."
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, often targeted by Daesh militants. 
In the past, extremists have targeted several education centres and other facilities in the area.
In May, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight attack on a hospital in west Kabul that left several mothers dead. The gunmen were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.