Hundreds of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims seeking to enter Ukraine from Belarus in defiance of virus travel restrictions were stopped by border guards on Tuesday, as Ukraine mobilized additional guards to bolster its forces.
Ukraine closed its borders last month as cases in the country ticked up, partly to halt the yearly pilgrimage to the city of Uman, the site of the grave of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Breslov branch of the Hasidic movement. The pilgrimage is timed to the Jewish New Year, which begins on Friday. Israeli health officials have supported Ukraine’s decision in light of the pandemic.
The pilgrims began arriving at a border crossing with Belarus on Monday afternoon, according to the Ukrainian border guard service. Authorities in Belarus let the group pass and they gathered on a road in the buffer area between the two border stations.
Through the night, hundreds of men and boys danced and sang songs. Their luggage was piled along fields on both sides of the road. The men tried to convince the border guards to let them through to celebrate the new year, the most important religious holiday for Hasidim. Little boys, looking bored and sleepy, stood by watching.
Some of the pilgrims had traveled to the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing believing it was open, which was not the case, Israel Public Broadcasting tweeted. Ukrainian authorities said the foreigners were warned about the border closure.
Ukraine’s border guard service said that 690 pilgrims had gathered along the border by Tuesday, and the agency’s director, Serhiy Deyneko, said that more were expected on charter flights arriving in Belarus. Belarusian media reported a different number of pilgrims on the border, saying about 1,500 had already arrived.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that the border closure will be enforced until it expires on Sept. 28. The country has reported nearly 20,000 new virus cases over the past week, bringing the total to more than 160,000, according to a Times database.
Reporting was contributed by Sarah Almukhtar, Matt Apuzzo, Emma Bubola, Emily Cochrane, Shaila Dewan, Nicholas Fandos, Antonella Francini, Rick Gladstone, Jennifer Jett, Anemona Hartocollis, Eric Lipton, Salman Masood, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Constant Méheut, Claire Moses, Eshe Nelson, Norimitsu Onishi, Gaia Pianigiani, Roni Caryn Rabin, Campbell Robertson, Amanda Rosa, Christopher F. Schuetze, Michael D. Shear, Jeanna Smialek, Eileen Sullivan, Glenn Thrush, Maria Varenikova, Sui-Lee Wee, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.