Thousands of Jewish pilgrims on the border between Belarus and Ukraine.
HANDOUT / UKRAINE'S BORDER GUARD SERVICE / AFP
The number of Jewish pilgrims stranded at the Belarus-Ukraine border due to coronavirus restrictions now exceeds a thousand and more continue to flow, the two countries said on Wednesday.
Coming mainly from Israel but also from France, Great Britain and the United States, these Hasidic Jews hoped to participate in a pilgrimage to Uman, in the center of Ukraine, but find themselves stranded in "no man's land" between the two states because of the closure of Ukrainian borders due to the pandemic.
The pilgrims passed through Belarus believing they could get around the restrictions put in place by Kiev.
Some have been stuck for more than a week in precarious conditions, their fate raises fears of a humanitarian crisis.
According to the Belarusian Red Cross, the pilgrims do not have "sufficient resources to meet their needs".
Images transmitted Tuesday by one of the castaways, Haim Weitshandler, show groups of men and children sitting or lying on the ground at night, or singing in front of a cordon of the Ukrainian riot police.
Many police officers on site
Journalists at the Ukrainian border on Wednesday noted a large presence of police, national guard and emergency services.
According to Belarusian border guards, at least 1,064 Israeli citizens have crossed the border since Monday, including 242 children.
"Belarus has made maximum efforts to provide food and heating modules," they added in a statement.
Ukrainian border guards have also estimated the number of pilgrims stuck in the neutral zone at "around 1,000", while saying they have the situation "under control".
As of Tuesday, they were around 700.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who maintains strained relations with Ukraine whom he accuses of having fostered the current serious political crisis in his country, asked his government to negotiate with Kiev "the opening of a corridor »Humanitarian aid for pilgrims to Uman.
Alexeï Dioubenkov, a spokesman for the Belarusian border guards quoted by the national agency Belta, specified that new groups of pilgrims continue to flow towards the border every hour.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims every year
“There has been no provocation, no tense situation since yesterday.
They are periodically given drinking water and food, ”said Andriï Demchenko, spokesperson for the Ukrainian border guard service.
Every year around the time of the Jewish New Year, tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to Uman, in central Ukraine, to worship at the tomb of Rabbi Nahman of Breslev (1772-1810), founder of a branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Hasidism.
This year, the pilgrimage is scheduled from September 18 to 28.
The Ukrainian and Israeli authorities had called on Hasidic Jews to give up this year because of the new coronavirus pandemic, especially since Ukraine banned for a month at the end of August the entry of foreigners into its territory because of a rebound in the number of contaminations.
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