Entrance to Rebbe Nachman's tomb in Uman
Entrance to Rebbe Nachman's tomb in UmaniStock

MDA flew 70 paramedics and other staff out to Uman to conduct coronavirus testing, and the government’s coronavirus project manager, Prof. Salman Zarka, even traveled out himself to oversee the testing of tens of thousands of Israelis prior to their flights back home.

Despite all the preparations, however, the system seems to have collapsed into chaos and the question is why.

At least thirty thousand Jews from Israel (and many more from other countries) traveled to Ukraine to spend Rosh Hashanah at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who is buried in Uman. Some ten thousand were already in Uman over a week before Rosh Hashanah began, and the government was prepared for another twenty thousand or more to join them in the last few days before the Jewish New Year.

Regulations enacted in the last few weeks by the government sought to ensure that those tens of thousands did not contract Covid-19 in large numbers abroad and bring it back to Israel with them. All those traveling out to Ukraine (and only to Ukraine) were required to test for the presence of coronavirus before boarding a flight out, and only those who tested negative were allowed to depart. They were tested again when they arrived in Ukraine – either at the airport in Kiev or in Uman, a four-hour drive away. Then, up to 72 hours before flying back, they were required to test a third time. At this point, the system collapsed, with huge lines at each of the testing stations and people waiting for hours.

Many who had anticipated just such a turn of events, as well as those who were flying back immediately after the end of the festival and needed a test result ready, took their tests before Rosh Hashanah began, on Monday. On Wednesday evening, however, as they were packing up and getting ready to head back home, their test results still had not come in.

According to MDA, the MDA tests were immediate, and these cases of late results were in cases of local tests and external organizations who offered tests to the masses.

Anecdotal reports suggest that rather than missing their flights home, some decided to pay for forged test results, after waiting long hours for the results of a test that had already cost them $20. Given that flights from Ukraine to Israel around Rosh Hashanah cost around four times the usual price as airline companies exploit the demand, missing a flight was clearly not the desired option.

“Why weren’t they prepared in advance? Didn’t anyone know how many Jews were in Uman?” one frustrated Israeli said in conversation with Arutz Sheva. “They really didn’t know how many testing stations they needed? Or do they simply not care – because at the end of the day, they can just blame whatever happens on those who came to Uman ‘and brought coronavirus back with them.’”