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Ukraine threatens to bar entry for Israeli pilgrims

Ukraine's ambassador to Israel claims the Jewish state is deporting 10% of Ukrainians seeking to enter the country.

Jewish men in the street near the tomb of Reb Nachman of Breslov in Uman on eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 25, 2022. Photo by Flash90.
Jewish men in the street near the tomb of Reb Nachman of Breslov in Uman on eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 25, 2022. Photo by Flash90.

Ukraine renewed threats over the weekend to bar Israeli pilgrims from entering the country, in retaliation for the deportation of Ukrainian tourists from Israel.

“The Ukrainian government will not tolerate the humiliation of its citizens upon entering Israel,” Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told the Israeli Ynet website. “It is unthinkable that we would have to go out of our way to host tens of thousands of Israelis in Uman, with a high security risk and a huge logistical effort, while the Israeli government abuses our citizens who come to Israel within the framework of a treaty between the two countries.”

He claimed that 10% of Ukrainian tourists were deported by Israeli authorities.

Israel has rejected the figures, which it claims are much lower, and said that it deports only Ukrainians it suspects are seeking to work in Israel illegally.

About 14,000 Ukrainian refugees are currently living in Israel, while over 4,000 have been granted citizenship under the Law of Return.

As part of the bilateral agreement which enables Israelis to visit Ukraine visa-free, Ukrainians can enter Israel as tourists for up to three months. Due to the ongoing war in the country, Israel has extended the three-month visas of non-Jewish refugees after a cap limiting their entry was struck down by the High Court of Justice.

The Israeli government announced this weekend that the health insurance of thousands of Ukrainians refugees in the country would be extended until the end of the year.

Annual trek

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews from Israel and other countries make the trek to Uman every year on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to visit the burial site of a revered 18th-century rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, the founder of a Hasidic sect.

The predominantly male pilgrimages to Uman, located about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital Kyiv, continued last year despite travel warnings issued by the Israeli government and the pleas of Ukrainian officials who had asked them to stay away because of the ongoing Russian invasion.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has held meetings with government leaders in neighboring Moldova, including the president and foreign minister, who have voiced readiness to assist in the entry of the thousands of pilgrims en route to Uman. 

Ukraine’s airspace has been closed since the outbreak of the war in February 2022.

Strained ties

Earlier this month, Ukraine was reportedly weighing ending the visa-free agreement with Israel due to its “unfriendly actions toward Ukraine and pro-Russian position in the international arena,” but Jerusalem did not consider the Ukranian media reports to be serious at the time.

Israel has been wary of sending direct military aid to Ukraine due to Russia’s active military involvement in neighborhood Syria, but has provided humanitarian assistance, including medicine and the first field hospital set up on Ukrainian territory following the outbreak of the war. 

The Ukrainian ambassador is now asking for the immediate intervention of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resolve the issue.

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