Ukrainian Igor Korpishen has been saving up for the past eight years to make his hajj dream come true as the holy journey looked something of a luxury in the central European country where Muslims stand as the poorest minority with towering unemployment rates and deplorable economic conditions.
"I'm so happy," Korpishen, who reverted to Islam in 1998, told IslamOnline.net Sunday, December 3.
Overwhelmed by joy, the 31-year-old Muslim youth has taken pains and worked late into nights to save every hryvnia needed for the relatively expensive journey.
"I pray that every Muslim would perform hajj in his/her lifetime," Korpishen said in an emotional voice.
Almost at every Muslim home in Ukraine, there is a Korpishen.
Many Muslims are yearning to perform hajj, but they are in such dire financial straits to make the dream come true. Some of them pass away and the dream is still unfulfilled.
The hajj journey in Ukraine costs an average of $2,500, a mind-boggling sum for many Ukrainian Muslims living below the poverty line.
One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim — who can financially afford the trip — must perform hajj once in their lifetime.
Neither the government nor NGOs provide charge-free hajj packages to Muslims, according Wael Al-Alami, the spokesman for the umbrella Federation of the Islamic Organizations in Ukraine (ARRAID).
"The pilgrims here perform hajj at their own expenses," Al-Alami told IOL.
"We have tried in vain to get charge-free hajj packages for poor Muslims and new reverts."
The organization of hajj trips is an individual effort undertaken by some Muslim organizations like ARRAID in coordination with a travel agency in the capital Kiev and the Saudi embassy in Moscow, because there is no a Saudi diplomatic mission in Ukraine.
Some 250 Ukrainian Muslims would perform hajj this year on three batches, according to Al-Alami.
The first batch is scheduled to fly for Saudi Arabia on December 8.
Ukraine is home to some two million Muslims making up 5% of the overall 46-million population.
There are up to 200 mosques and 20 Islamic centers nationwide.