The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, met with a delegation of Breslov Hassidic Jews in Israel Tuesday and vowed to defend Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in Uman along with the synagogue situated there. "This is an important asset of the Jewish people," Yushchenko said in reference to the holy site. "Jews must be allowed access to pray there, and it is important to preserve freedom of worship," he told Rabbi Daniel Dayan of the World Breslov Center and Attorney Gilad Corinaldi, who represents the Breslov Hassidic group.
The threat to the gravesite stems from a Ukranian court ruling against the Breslov Foundation to pay an alleged debt of $3 million to a contractor who was hired to to expand the synagogue adjacent to the grave. The court ruled that if the Jews don't pay, Rebbe Nachman's tomb may be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The dispute began when the building company, owned by a Ukrianian Parliament Member, demanded a $100,000 payment, which the Jewish group refused claiming the services had never been proffered. Late payment clauses multiplied the sum to $3 million. Some of the court hearings were held without a Breslov representative present.
Yushchenko will address the Knesset plenum Wednesday and is expected to make similar statements regarding the Uman controversy.
"We are looking into the legal aspects [of the dispute] between the business world and the religious side," Yushchenko said in the meeting with Rabbi Dayan and Corinaldi. "I hereby affirm that there will be no problem and the matter will come to an agreed conclusion. The synagogue and grave of Rabbi Nachman at Uman are sacred cultural and religious assets which belong to the Jewish people."
"'There is no despair in the world at all"
"As in every enlightened state," he said, "in the Ukraine, too, sacred religious sites are out of bounds and non-negotiable. To the Hassidim I would like to say on a personal note that there is no reason to worry, and I will act with all my power to protect and safeguard them, or in the words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, 'There is no despair in the world at all.'"
The Hassidim presented Yushchenko with a silver goblet and blessed him for his intervention.
Yushchenko became President of Ukraine in January 2005 after a highly-disputed election and a public uprising known as "the orange revolution." In the course of the presidential campaign, he was poisoned with a chemical that caused a deformation of his face – an event which only served to bolster his popularity.