Thousands of Hasidic Jews from Israel and other countries are making their way to Uman, a city in central Ukraine, for a traditional pilgrimage over Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, defying stern travel warnings issued by the Israeli government and the pleas of Ukrainian officials who had asked them to stay away because of the war.
Fewer are expected to make the journey than in a usual year, when tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews — mostly men but also families — travel to Uman to mark the new year, which begins at sundown on Sunday, with a visit to the burial site of a revered 18th-century rabbi, Nachman of Breslav. But about 4,000 pilgrims have already arrived from Israel alone, and the numbers were likely rise to 5,000 or more, according to Alon Lavi, a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Those numbers were only estimates, Mr. Lavi said, adding that it is difficult to determine an exact number because there are no direct flights to Ukraine from Israel and pilgrims are still traveling across the Ukrainian border from neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania and Moldova.
Pilgrims already in Uman told Israeli news media that they hardly felt the effects of the war there, other than more stringent security checks at checkpoints and at the entrance to the rabbi’s tomb. Israeli and Ukrainian officials have warned that Russian missiles have been fired at the area in recent weeks.
Central Ukraine has generally not faced the same dangers as frontline cities in the east, but is not as safe as the west. Last week, millions of gallons of water flooded from a dam in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih after Russian shelling. And in July, Russian cruise missiles struck a shopping center, dance studio and wedding hall in the city of Vinnytsia — just 100 miles from Uman — killing at least 23 civilians.
“Please avoid pilgrimage,” the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel urged in a Facebook post this month. “Continuous Russian attacks cause real danger to your lives!” In an earlier warning, issued on Sept. 6, the embassy urged pilgrims to pray that “peace will return to Ukraine and the blessed pilgrimage will be renewed” instead of visiting Uman.
“When the echoes of the Russian enemy explosions on Ukraine don’t stop,” the warning said, “we must take care of ourselves.”
The Israeli government’s warning stated that a Russian missile attack had killed a Ukrainian civilian, wounded several others and caused extensive damage near Uman a few weeks ago. It also advised Israeli citizens in Ukraine to leave immediately, saying that the volatile security situation posed “a real and immediate danger to life.”