Uman Signals Annual Hasidic Pilgrimage, Disrupted by COVID, to Resume in 2021

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 in Uman, Ukraine, 2017.
Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray on a bank of a lake near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, 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 annual Hasidic pilgrimage to the central Ukrainian city of Uman will be allowed to resume in 2021 after being put on hold last year due to surging coronavirus cases in the former Soviet Republic.

According to a post on the Facebook page of the Ukrainian embassy in Tel Aviv, ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk held a virtual meeting with the heads of the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn in which he indicated that pilgrims will once again be allowed into the country.

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Korniychuk stressed pilgrims’ “need to comply” with Ukrainian regulations during their stay, a likely reference to long-standing tensions between the often boisterous visitors and the locals, including ultra-nationalists opposed to the annual Rosh Hashanah festivities at the tomb of the grave site of the Breslover Hasidic movement’s founder,  Rabbi Nachman. The event usually draws tens of thousands of visitors from Israel, Europe and the United States.

This year, Rosh Hashanah will fall on 6-8 September.

In 2014, representatives of the Uman Jewish community in Ukraine paid the city approximately $15,000 in fines for erecting an unlicensed tent city for holiday pilgrims. The following year, Ukrainian nationalists destroyed the pilgrims’ tent city, causing half a million dollars worth of damage, according to the director of the Jewish association in Uman.

According to the embassy, the Jewish participants in Wednesday’s virtual meeting “agreed to make efforts and take the necessary measures to resolve controversial issues related to illegal construction in the city of Uman” while the ambassador “stressed the readiness of local authorities and the central government to provide the necessary assistance in the development of the memorial complex and the preservation of Jewish burials.”

Last Sunday, Israel removed Ukraine from its list of maximum risk countries, to which citizens are banned from traveling during the pandemic. According to Ukrainian law, visitors from abroad are required to be vaccinated and to present documentation of insurance which “covers the costs related to the treatment of COVID-19.”

Orthodox Jews perform tashlikh, a Jewish atonement ritual, at the bank of a lake formed by the Umanka River in Uman, Ukraine, 2018. Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images IL

Ukraine closed its borders in August 2020 amidst a surge in COVID-19 infections, blocking most pilgrims from entering the country. About 2,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims, who had traveled through Belarus in hope of reaching Uman, were stuck at the Ukrainian border for several days before eventually turning back without reaching their destination in mid-September. They had camped in a no-man's land between the two countries, some sleeping in makeshift tents and others on the ground, before giving up and heading home.

At the same time, Ukraine's border guards agency said that it had turned back several Hasidic pilgrims who tried to enter the country from Poland, Hungary and Romania.

According to the Kyiv Post, less than 2 million people out of Ukraine’s population of over 43 million had been vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by last week. The number of new cases has gradually been dropping in recent weeks, although there have been several spikes in cases. Over 50,000 Ukrainians have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Last month, two Hasidic men were wounded during a shooting in Uman, the Unian news agency reported.

The Associated Press and JTA contributed to this report.

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