Dozens of Jewish Hasidic pilgrims trying to reach the Ukrainian city of Uman for Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday were refused entry into Moldova after traveling there via Turkey.
Every Jewish New Year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews make the pilgrimage to Uman to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810. Ukraine has imposed a ban on foreigners entering the country to tackle coronavirus, effectively banning the pilgrims.
The pilgrims were set to be expelled back to Turkey under police escort after scuffles broke out at the airport in Chișinău when the group was informed they would not be allowed into the country, where they hoped they would be able to cross the border with Ukraine.
Yitzhak Carlebach, one of the pilgrims, said they have been held at the airport for 12 hours, with their passports and luggage, where they said they keep food and medicine, confiscated.
In addition, some 2,000 pilgrims are also stranded along the Ukrainian border in Belarus after guards did not allow them to enter due to coronavirus restrictions.
Also Thursday, Likud Minister Zeev Elkin called on Hasidic Jews hoping to enter Ukraine through Belarus return home after efforts to enable their access despite coronavirus restrictions failed.
"Ukraine announced it wouldn't allow entry via border crossings or any form of small delegation. I call on our citizens to return to Israel and uphold the quarantine instructions upon their arrival," Elkin, who is Ukrainian-born, said on Twitter.
"Despite many efforts to help Israelis trying to enter Ukraine through Belarus or Moldova, we received a final negative answer from the Ukrainian authorities."
Kyiv stopped the pilgrims, who were trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman, in line with its ban on foreign visitors as it battles a sharp increase in infections.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews head to Uman every Jewish New Year -- which falls on September 18-20 this year -- to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
The believers departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month had urged them not to travel because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ultra-Orthodox members of the Israeli coalition had pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enable the tradition, despite the objection of health officials who feared the crowded mass event would increase contagion.
As of Wednesday, over 2,000 frustrated Jewish pilgrims, mostly from Israel, were congregated on the Ukraine-Belarus border in the hope they would be permitted entry.