Reports of Iranian Suicide Drones Targeting Ukraine's Uman Don't Deter Jewish Pilgrims

‘Even if Uman was in Iran, we would be going,’ said one visitor, who attended the traditional Rosh Hashanah celebrations at the site as air raid sirens sounded repeatedly during the holiday

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
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Jewish pilgrims in Uman, Ukraine
Jewish pilgrims in Uman, UkraineCredit: Sam Sokol
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

UMAN, Ukraine – Pilgrims celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Uman on Tuesday appeared unfazed by a Ukrainian media report claiming that Russian forces had targeted the popular Jewish pilgrimage destination with Iranian suicide drones.

Citing unnamed security officials, Ukraine’s Babel news website reported that over the past several days, Ukrainian forces had shot down multiple Iranian drones, several of which were launched at Uman with the intention of “target[ing] Hasidic religious sites with large crowds.”

Sign for a shelter in Uman, Ukraine.Credit: Sam Sokol

“Planned acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens are one of the conditions for Iran's transfer of drones to Russia,” the site quoted the Ukrainian security services as saying. “As you know, this is not the first example of cooperation between two terrorist countries.”

Ukraine has not officially responded to the report, and an Israeli official who spoke to Haaretz on condition of anonymity said Jerusalem had not yet received any confirmation that Uman was in fact targeted.

Jewish worshippers pray in Uman.Credit: Sam Sokol

The Uman municipality also declined to comment, although air raid sirens repeatedly sounded in the city throughout the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, which began at sundown on Sunday evening.

Since the fall of Communism, Uman has become a major Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage destination as the site of the tomb of early Hasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.

Echoing the dedication of many of the Jewish visitors to Uman, who said that they would not be dissuaded from visiting despite the war, one pilgrim told Haaretz on Tuesday, “Even if Uman was in Iran, we would be going.” He made his comments prior to the Babel website’s report on the drones.

Rabbi Jay Yaakov Schwartz, a visitor from the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, told Haaretz on Tuesday evening that “the reason why people were willing to assume what seemed to be some possible risks was because of a healthy skepticism [as to whether] the warnings were even credible – due to political considerations.”

A sign welcoming Jewish pilgrims with a number to call in case of emergency above a picture of Hasidic leader Nachman of Bratslav.Credit: Sam Sokol

“Being in Uman for Rosh Hashanah is something deeply meaningful on a spiritual level,” he said. “This is what Uman is really all about. … It’s an opportunity to dig deep and come out all the better for it. It’s the rabbis. It’s the personalities. It’s the intermingling. I [can] connect with people I might never have met, but here we are all brothers, and we are envisioning a better world.”

Other visitors expressed similar sentiments. One explained that “the only targeting I saw was by the Israeli media trying to dissuade us from coming to Uman.”

Jewish pilgrims in Uman, Ukraine.Credit: Sam Sokol

There was “no reason to believe Uman would be targeted and no reason that it would be hit and no reason to believe that even if it would be hit that we would be hit by it,” another pilgrim said. “The chances are so small that there is no reason to even think about it. The people who are here because they want to be here aren't going to be understood by people who aren’t connected.”

Ukraine’s SBU domestic security agency announced earlier this month that it was increasing security measures and taking steps aimed at “strengthening security and practicing rapid response to possible threats” in light of the war that followed the Russian invasion of the country in February.

The agency said regional units of the Security Service of Ukraine, the National Police, the National Guard, the State Emergency Service and other agencies were involved in what it called “counter-subversive measures.” It warned that “Russia can use the arrival and mass gathering of pilgrims to stage provocations.”

Jewish worshippers in Uman.Credit: Sam Sokol

Despite this —and repeated warnings by Ukrainian, Israeli and American officials— the United Jewish Community of Ukraine estimated that more than 23,000 pilgrims celebrated the Jewish New Year in Uman this year.

Back in July, U.S. intelligence publicly warned that Tehran planned to send hundreds of bomb-carrying Shahed suicide drones to Russia in support of the Russian war effort against Ukraine. While Iran initially denied it, the head of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guards boasted this month about arming the world's top powers.

Ukrainian officials subsequently published photos that they said showed downed Iranian drones used by Russian forces.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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