A pilgrim stranded at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, with his suitcase, September 17, 2020. -
Mikhail Voskresenskiy / SIPA
Because of the border closures linked to the coronavirus epidemic, they had been stuck since the beginning of the week on the border between Ukraine and Belarus.
Several hundred Jewish pilgrims returned home on Friday, renouncing their pilgrimage.
"If yesterday there were about a thousand, this morning at 10am, they were only 700" at the border post of Novi Yarylovychi, told AFP the spokesman of the Ukrainian border guards Andriï Demchenko.
His Belarusian counterpart, Anton Bytchkovski, confirmed that "their number is in decline" and that a balance sheet will be drawn this Friday around midday.
According to Minsk, 1,216 pilgrims were stationed in the "no man's land" between the two countries, including 253 minors.
The tomb of the founder of Hasidism
Every year around the time of the Jewish New Year - this year from September 18 to 20 - tens of thousands of pilgrims travel to Uman, in central Ukraine, to worship at the tomb of Rabbi Nahman in Breslev. (1772-1810), founder of a branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Hasidism.
The departures of the first pilgrims from the border area come as the New Year celebrations are due to begin at dusk this Friday.
These Hasidic Jews believed they could bypass the restrictions put in place by Kiev in the face of the upsurge in cases of the new coronavirus passing through Belarus.
About 2,000 of them, mostly from Israel but also from the United States, the United Kingdom or France, are currently in Belarus: about half were stuck since the start of the week in the neutral zone on the outskirts from the Ukrainian post of Novi Yarylovychi.
Illegal attempts to cross the border
They denounced the precarious living conditions there, but were provided with water, food and tents.
No clashes took place.
Ukrainian border guards also announced on Friday the arrests of several other pilgrims on the borders with Hungary, Poland and Romania, as they tried to cross the border illegally.
Seven Israeli or American nationals were arrested in Ukraine, coming from Hungary.
An Austrian tried to cross from Poland with a Ukrainian passport not belonging to him and was inadmissible for three years.
Finally, 10 Israeli nationals were arrested by Romanian border guards while trying to reach Ukraine.
The border crisis was compounded Wednesday by a diplomatic quarrel between Ukraine and Belarus, Kiev accusing Minsk of wanting to instrumentalize the situation, against a backdrop of tensions between the two capitals after the contested Belarusian presidential election of August 9.
The Ukrainian presidency called on the Belarusian authorities to "stop exacerbating" this crisis at the border and "not to peddle false statements that bring hope to the pilgrims" about its opening.
Belarusian President Alexander Loukachenko had asked him on Tuesday to “open a humanitarian corridor” to Uman for pilgrims.
And his government had accused Ukraine of not respecting their rights, in particular their freedom of worship.
The Israeli government, which like Kiev had estimated in August that because of the pandemic, Hasidic Jews had to give up their pilgrimage, called on them Thursday to return to the country.
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