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Likud MK Nir Barkat visits Uman despite warnings from Israel, Ukraine

Lawmaker seems to downplay warning from Foreign Ministry; was invited to visit by Ukraine’s chief rabbi, who has said Ukraine unable to guarantee pilgrims’ safety

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Likud MK Nir Barkat seen praying at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, September 9, 2022. (Twitter/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law))
Likud MK Nir Barkat seen praying at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, September 9, 2022. (Twitter/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law))

Despite repeated pleas by Israel, the US and Ukraine to avoid the annual Hasidic pilgrimage to the city of Uman this year due to the war with Russia, Likud MK Nir Barkat decided to travel to the war-torn country and visited the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav ahead of the Jewish New Year.

Invited by Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman, who is affiliated with the Likud party, Barkat was documented walking around destroyed neighborhoods in several Ukrainian cities, including Irpin, Kyiv and Bucha.

Barkat was also spotted praying at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman under heavy security.

In a video, the Israeli lawmaker highlighted the importance of maintaining daily life during emergencies but also stressed the need for safety protocols.

Speaking in Hebrew, Barkat seemed to downplay warnings by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and the Foreign Ministry of the grave danger in visiting the country and the site, when he said that “the public arriving in Uman must be disciplined and follow instructions.”

He did acknowledge, however, that “this is not a game.”

“This is a time of war and we must stay attentive and manage the risks,” he said.

Rabbi Azman was cited by the Ynet news site as saying Barkat’s trip was meant to show “solidarity with the Ukrainian people and the country’s Jewish community.”

Conversely, the rabbi has also urged potential visitors not to come to Uman this year, recently saying Ukraine was unable to guarantee their safety.

The Foreign Ministry, which was not notified of Barkat’s surprise trip, was critical of the lawmaker, with one unnamed official calling the private, unsanctioned trip by a public official “crazy.”

Following the report, Barkat’s office issued a statement that read: “Unfortunately, the Israeli government is absent from Ukraine during this difficult time of war that is hurting innocent people.

“The US secretary of state, the British defense minister and officials from around the world have visited Ukraine. The horrors in Ukraine are shocking and we as Jews should be the first ones to express support for the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Jewish community.”

Last week, the Foreign Ministry intensified its calls for Israelis to avoid traveling to Uman this Rosh Hashanah, warning worshipers that visiting would pose a “real and immediate risk to lives.”

A statement issued by the ministry said that “the volatile security situation includes the danger of aerial bombardment or missile attacks against civilian towns and territories, including in the west and center of the country.”

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office urged citizens “not to go to the city of Uman during the upcoming Jewish holidays in light of the life-threatening danger posed by entering the combat area.”

The Ukrainian Embassy in Israel also issued a warning about the pilgrimage. Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told religious media outlets that the country “cannot guarantee the security of pilgrims” due to the Russian offensive, and asked the ultra-Orthodox community instead to “pray for the victory of Ukraine.”

Uman’s mayor Iryna Pletnyova also sought to deter pilgrims from arriving, emphasizing that the city did not have the capacity to provide protection to the tens of thousands of potential visitors.

Jewish men in the street near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, on eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Rabbi Nachman was an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement. The city of Uman, the site of the rabbi’s grave, normally sees some 30,000 visitors, most of them from Israel, over the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

The city, in central Ukraine, is relatively far away from the frontline, but has been hit several times by Russian strikes, according to Ukrainian reports.

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