Israel Issues Travel Warning for Ukrainian City Ahead of Annual Pilgrimage

Israel’s warning comes several weeks after Kyiv announced that it was cancelling the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Uman, located in central Ukraine, due to the fighting with Russia

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray on a bank of a lake near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of the Rosh Hashanah holiday,  in Uman, Ukraine, in 2017.
Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray on a bank of a lake near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, in Uman, Ukraine, in 2017.Credit: Valentyn Ogirenko / REUTERS
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

The Foreign Ministry called on Israelis on Tuesday to avoid travelling to the Ukrainian pilgrimage city of Uman for the High Holidays in light of the ongoing fighting and the risk of Russian air attacks.

“Due to the war and the fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urges Israeli citizens to avoid coming to the territories of Ukraine, including the city of Uman and its surroundings,” the ministry said in a travel warning posted to its Facebook page.

"Israeli citizens who are in Ukraine are called to leave the country's borders immediately,” the ministry cautioned. “The explosive security situation, including the danger of bombing from the air or firing rockets at civilian settlements and territories, including in the center and west of the country, is a real and immediate danger to life.”

Ultra orthodox Jews dance in the street near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, in 2016.Credit: REUTERS

The ministry’s warning comes several weeks after Kyiv announced that it was cancelling the annual Jewish pilgrimage to Uman for security reasons.

"Due to concerns for the lives and well-being of the visitors to Ukraine and in light of the blatant Russian war in our country, despite all efforts, we can not guarantee the security of pilgrims and do not currently allow tourists and visitors to enter Ukraine," Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk said in a statement posted to the embassy’s Facebook page on July 7.

“Imagine a crowd of 50,000 or even more praying in Uman and [the Russians] decide to shoot missiles. Can you guarantee that won't happen after they were shelling shopping malls and kindergartens and schools?"

Korniychuk’s announcement came a week-and-a-half after he had announced that Ukraine was considering blocking Israeli citizens from crossing its borders in retaliation for restrictions that Israel imposed in the wake of February’s invasion by Russia, although that issue was subsequently resolved.

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews journey to the central Ukrainian town every year to celebrate the Rosh Hashanah holiday at the tomb of the early Hasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, although there is a smaller permanent Jewish community there year-round.

But the city is now nearly empty of Jews, most of whom left after the Russians first started shelling the city at the beginning of the war. Those who are left are busy praying and taking care of the steady stream of refugees, Irina Rybnitskaya of the Rabbi Nachman Foundation told Haaretz earlier this year.

Ultra orthodox Jews perform the Tikun Haklali prayer at the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman, in 2006.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP / GETTY IL

Following the Russian invasion in late February, the city’s Bratslav synagogue was transformed into a makeshift bomb shelter, with its underground ritual bath complex filling up with dozens of Ukrainians whenever an air raid siren sounded.

The Jews of Uman were thrust into the spotlight in late March when Russia said that Ukrainian forces were storing weapons in a local synagogue, a claim disputed by the local community.

Responding to the emerging pandemic, the annual pilgrimage was cancelled by Ukrainian authorities in 2020, although thousands of Hasidim attempted to enter Ukraine anyway, ending up stuck at the border. Although the pilgrimage was allowed to proceed last year, Health Ministry data showed that about one-in-ten people who returned to Israel from Ukraine in the weeks following the pilgrimage were infected with COVID-19, far more than any other foreign country.

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