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Greeks of Ukraine Fighting Alone

greeks-of-ukraineThe point that defines the end of the Ukrainian army is the community of Sartana in Mariupol, where soldiers control who comes and goes, and curfew starts at 8 pm.

Many members of the Greek Diaspora live between Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army, almost six miles away from the area controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). The villages in between are not under the control of either side. One of these is Sartana, a town of 11,000, almost 70% of which have Greek origin and moved there in 1778-1780 from Crimea.

In the late 80s, the Greeks of Sartana were organized in communities and started to claim their rights to their historical identity, language and culture. Today, they are not under the jurisdiction of any state or army, but they find themselves in the “space” between Russia and Ukraine.

Even though, until last week, the village had been left untouched, it is now very close to the first line of fire. Despite the ceasefire, gunshots can be heard on the streets, while people are being wary.

57-year-old Tatyana Bogaditsa, a historian of Greek origin, who works at the local Museum of History and Ethnography of the Greeks of Azov, said: “We are in the middle of these developments. Many have gone, they have taken the children away. There have been fights in other Greek villages. Thankfully, there have been none here, until now. Refugees from other villages are coming and we are trying to help. Our Church has collected humanitarian aid.” She is concerned for all the children in the world and sings a mournful song in the local Greek dialect while complains that the song has been stuck in her head for days. “We just want peace,” she sighs.

The oldest Greeks in the village remember World War II. Despite the harsh discrimination and oppression of the Greeks from the USSR, they fought against the German invaders, left the dead behind and gathered memories that they would rather not have.

The President of Sartana community, Stepan Mahsma, says that the official Greek community does not intend to take a position in favor of either side. He also denies that Greeks have been pressured to join one of the armies. “Knowing our history in this area, we are trying to remain neutral and not get involved. Only a few Greeks decided to fight for one of the two rival camps, however, these are purely personal choices,” he says. This opinion was also expressed by the Federation of Greek Associations of Ukraine, according to which at least 1,500 Greeks have lost their homes and thousands of Greeks have not received their pensions for more than three months.

Furthermore, the Federation expressed its indignation regarding Greece’s refusal to provide practical support. The General Secretary of the Federation, Nikolay Kosse, said that nothing of what was agreed during the visit of Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos in Mariupol last March was implemented. “Not only have we been left without any tangible support, but there hasn’t even been a statement of support,” he concluded.

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