Ukraine Temporarily Bars Foreigners After Israel Asks to Restrict Uman Pilgrimage

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every year on the Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav

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Hasidic Jews await check-in for a flight to Ukraine on the way to Uman, Ben Gurion airport, September 13, 2019.
Hasidic Jews await check-in for a flight to Ukraine on the way to Uman, Ben Gurion airport, September 13, 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar

Ukraine on Wednesday imposed a temporary ban on most foreigners from entering the country until September 28 and extended lockdown measures until the end of October to contain a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal also said the government would need to take a decision on Thursday on whether to ban major public events in September.

"The rise in coronavirus infections we have seen in recent weeks is forcing us to act more decisively," Shmygal said.

The daily tally of new infections jumped to around 2,000 last week with a record high of 2,328 on Saturday. The total number of infections reached 110,085 on Wednesday, with 2,354 deaths.

Hasidic Jews at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman 22 September 2006.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP / GETTY IL

Shmygal said Wednesday's decisions were partly in response to a plea from Israel to prevent an influx of Hasidic Jews travelling to the central Ukrainian town of Uman for an annual pilgrimage, fearing it may become a virus hotspot.

"We must protect our citizens and show responsibility to our foreign partners," Shmygal said.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every year on the Jewish High Holy Days to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810. Jewish New Year celebrations run from September 18-20 this year.

The head of Israel's coronavirus task force, Ronny Gamzu, asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to ban the event this year..

Some foreigners would be exempted from the new curbs, including diplomats and passengers in transit to other countries, Shmygal said.

Ukraine's government decided to ease lockdown rules imposed in March for economic reasons, after seeing gross domestic product shrink 11.4% in the second quarter year-on-year, showing the deepest quarterly fall since 2015.

The authorities do not plan to lock down the whole country again, but have reimposed some restrictions such as limiting public transport.

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