Greeks in Ukraine: Living Near the Front Line
3 March, 2017

There is a picture on the wall depicting a Trier, an Ancient Greek warship. There are about twenty people on the deck with Greek and Ukrainian flags flying above their heads. There is a woman on the ship’s bow. This was a present made by the team at the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine, the head of which is Oleksandra Protsenko.

Greeks are the third largest nationality in the Donetsk region. They’ve established dozens of settlements which are now located on the boundary line. The Federation’s main building is located in Mariupol, in the Donetsk region, near where shootings are still taking place.

“Greeks are cosmopolitans. We are citizens of the world”

 ‘We help people in the villages along the front line’, says Oleksandra, ‘but many problems remain unsolved: the lack of proper medical care and jobs, the problems with water supply and transport. In general, the infrastructure in the front line area is totally destroyed.’ The receptionist offers me coffee. When I try to refuse he replies, ‘Where else will you try Greek coffee?’ So I agree and return to the conversation.

The building of the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine, Mariupol, Ukraine

‘Dozen of villages inhabited by Greeks are located along the front line’, says Protsenko. ‘Of course, we do not take into account nationality when distributing aid. Greeks have always been cosmopolitans. ‘Cosmo’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘world’. We are citizens of the world’.

“It’s scary to even remember what we’ve experienced…”

 Viktoria Pomazan is the editor of the "Greeks of Ukraine" newspaper. It pays a lot of attention to voluntary initiatives, the lives of Greek people, and of course, the issue of war.

 ‘In general there are 97 Greek communities in Ukraine, their support and assistance is directed at both civilians and military personnel in the front line area. For instance, one businessman from Odesa who is Greek by birth, throughout last year gave thousands of hryvnias to children from the anti-terrorist operation zone. The total sum amounted to 100 thousand UAH per month’, she says, adding, ‘It's scary to even remember what we’ve experienced here…”

“I can’t imagine myself being a resident of Russia”

 Nina Ignatenko is a librarian at the Federation of Greeks. She remembers how went to the Greek island of Rhodes for a rehabilitation program.

 ‘I took a Ukrainian flag and together with two of my friends, we hung it up. Oh, the rest of Greeks who also came looked at us with such hate. Why? I have to say that 20 percent of those who came with us supported Ukraine, and the others supported Russia. Can you imagine? We asked them. ‘What would you do in the ‘DPR’? Who would take you to Rhodes? And who would even speak to you?”

Before retirement, Nina thought of moving to Greece and even prepared all the necessary documents. However, she remains in Mariupol.

 ‘I live here, among Greeks,’ I don’t feel any discomfort at all. If only everything was alright in Ukraine ... I feel sorry for all those young men. I'm afraid, very afraid, that Russia will come here, to Mariupol. I can’t imagine myself being a resident of Russia, and I don’t even want to.’

 “People in the buffer zone are almost forgotten”

Evgen Chako and his father Rostyslav are volunteers and representatives of the Caritas Mariupol Charitable Foundation.

 ‘Now, in winter, the problem of heating is quite severe. People have no money to buy fuel; there is no coal, it has been left in the occupied territories’, says Evgen.

‘People in the buffer zone are almost forgotten. There is almost no medical care available. The military help us, but they also need help. The state does nothing to educate people in Mariupol and in the Donetsk region in general. The volunteers have taken on these roles’, adds his father, Rostyslav.

 “Crimean Tatars have returned. Greeks, on the other hand, have not”

Ivan Papush talks about the repression suffered by the Soviet Greeks in 1937-1938. In the Donetsk region alone, where there were most concentrated amount of Greek settlements, 6,000 victims were recorded.

‘My father was repressed. I am 93 years old. I witnessed both dispossession and collectivization. A lot of people were shot here, others were sent to Kazakhstan and even farther to the east. Unlike Crimean Tatars, our  people haven’t come back,’ he says.

He founded the the Museum of History and Ethnography of Azov Greeks in Sartana on his own. It is 10 kilometers away from Mariupol.

In the street we met half-Greek, half-Ukrainian, Nikalai Mikhalych. He says that is satisfied with life, he just hopes that nobody will shoot him. His daughter-in-law was killed near Shyrokyno.

He complains, ‘I feel empty, I have no-one left. They are all 50-60 years old, they are dying’.

Information note from Hromadske: Mariupol is a city in the Donetsk region that was controlled by the terrorist groups of the“DPR” from the 13th of April until the 13th of June, 2014.

/By Pavlo Steh