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August 20, 2023 10:51 am

Ukraine Threatens to Ban Jewish Pilgrims to Uman over Israel Deportations

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Yevgen Korniychuk, Ukraine’s Ambasdor to the State of Israel, in his office in Tel Aviv. Photo: Ben Cohen/The Algemeiner

i24 NewsUkraine’s ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk warned on Sunday that his country is considering a ban on Jewish pilgrims traveling to the central city of Uman in response to Israel’s deportation of Ukrainian citizens.

Earlier on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his weekly briefing that he received reports from the Border Guard, the Foreign Ministry and intelligence services about the mistreatment of Ukrainian immigrants in “different countries” in regards to “visa regimes.”

“Managers responsible for these issues have been given appropriate tasks. The rights of Ukrainian citizens must be guaranteed,” the president vowed.

According to an official statement posted on the Ukrainian embassy’s Facebook page, the ambassador to Israel clarified that the president’s message was directed at Jerusalem. Korniychuk urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “reconsider the entrance policy toward Ukrainians” and personally intervene in the issue.

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“The government of Ukraine will not tolerate the humiliation of its citizens while entering Israel. We will suspend our bilateral visa waiver agreements as stipulated in our bilateral visa waiver agreements as it’s stipulated by Article 7 of the intergovernmental agreement. This option is on the table of our government,” the envoy said.

“If Israel wants its citizens to be able to come to Ukraine as tourists, including Uman, I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu should intervene personally,” he specified, referring to the upcoming pilgrimage of religious Jews for the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims visit Uman in Ukraine every year, flocking to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman for the Jewish New Year. Despite the ongoing Russian invasion, in 2022 they continued to travel to the war-torn country, and are expected to do the same this September.

“If the deportation of the Ukrainians from Israel does not stop, the entry of Israelis to Uman will be banned. Ukraine is to halt the visa waiver agreement with Israel,” the envoy warned.

According to the embassy’s data, Israel deported 2,705 Ukrainian citizens in 2022, while in the first half of 2023 this number amounted to 2,037 Ukrainian citizens. The Ukrainians who were denied entry had to sleep on the airport floor overnight before being sent back.

“It is unthinkable that we will have to go out of our way to host tens of thousands of Israelis in Uman, with a high security risk, and with a huge logistical effort when on the other hand, the Israeli government abuses our citizens who come to Israel within the framework of the treaty between our countries,” the envoy said.

In response to an inquiry by i24NEWS, the ambassador elaborated on the alleged mistreatment of Ukrainian citizens at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport: “Our people are treated by authorities in Ben Gurion as some kind of criminals. Partners or friends do not behave like that. We are not asking for a favor.”

Continuing, the ambassador said that he has attempted to address the ongoing issue multiple times with the relevant Israeli authorities, saying his requests were ignored and the situation has only worsened.

The statement was denounced by Israel’s Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel.

“I completely reject the claims about the humiliation of Ukrainian citizens upon entering Israel,” the minister from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said.

“The Israeli immigration policy welcomes tourists from many countries in the world, including Ukraine. In cases where there is suspicion of illegal use of a tourist visa for work or settlement purposes, the Population and Immigration Authority exercises its legal authority,” he assured.

On Thursday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced that the government would extend social and health benefits until the end of the year to new citizens who moved to Israel due to the war in Ukraine.

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