Higher Education Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), who was appointed to a governmental committee on the Uman issue, announced on Thursday morning that Ukraine has issued its final official answer on the matter and is not allowing additional visitors to Uman to enter the country.
“Despite our great efforts to assist Israelis who tried to enter Ukraine through Belarus or Moldova, a final negative answer from the Ukrainian authorities arrived this morning,” Elkin stated. “The Ukrainians announced that they will not allow any entry through border crossings and no reduced delegations.”
Thousands of chassidim have been waiting at the Belarus-Ukraine border due to rumors that Ukraine would allow them in. Ukraine and Belarus traded angry accusations on Wednesday over the cross-border issue.
Ukraine’s presidential office urged Belarusian authorities to stop issuing misleading signals to the Jews that they could eventually cross the border.
“We are asking Belarusian authorities to stop fueling the tensions on the border and refrain from spreading false encouraging statements that could leave the pilgrims with a feeling that the Ukrainian border might be opened,” it said. “Belarusian authorities have deliberately or unintentionally helped spread those rumors.”
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz shot back at Ukraine, accusing it of “inhumane” treatment of the Jewish pilgrims.
Ukrainian authorities said about 2,000 Hasidic Jewish pilgrims converged on the border in hopes of crossing over and reaching the Ukrainian city of Uman.
Ukraine closed its borders in late August amid a surge in COVID-19 infections. Belarus, which shares a long border with Ukraine, hasn’t barred foreign visitors from entering.
As the Jewish pilgrims have gathered on the border, Ukraine has deployed additional forces to protect the frontier and sent aircraft and drones to patrol it.
Glaz, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman, accused Ukrainian authorities of being reluctant to find a solution and trying to shift blame.
“We persistently urge Ukrainian authorities to respect fundamental human rights, religious rights and internationally recognized norms and follow humanitarian principles,” he said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s spokeswoman, Natalia Eismont, said Belarus was ready to provide buses to drive the pilgrims to Uman and back and make all the necessary precautions to prevent a spike in new infections.
Ukraine’s presidential office hinted that Belarusian authorities’ actions could be rooted in the latest tensions between the two neighbors following Belarus’ presidential election.
Ukraine has joined the United States and the European Union in criticizing the Aug. 9 vote in which Lukashenko extended his 26-year authoritarian rule as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to end their crackdown on protesters.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)