Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias paid a one-day visit to the city of Mariupol which is the epicenter of Hellenism in Ukraine and which is located near the dividing line between Ukrainian and Russian troops.
Dendias stated that his visit to Mariupol, a few kilometers from the line of tension aims “to strengthen, at the behest of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek Community that is here. A community of over 100,000 people.”
Greece supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine
Dendias said Greece is closely monitoring the situation and believes that there are no grounds for premature decisions.
He stated that at the moment Greece does not plan to evacuate its diplomats or members of their families, nor is it urging Greek citizens and Ukrainians of Greek descent to leave Ukraine. Instead, the Greek government is ready to continue to help the Greek community in Ukraine.
He added that he spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, to whom he reiterated the firm Greek position.
“Greece, for reasons of principle, has always been a supporter of the independence and territorial integrity of all states, in accordance with the principles of International Law and the Charter of the United Nations. I want to express the hope that the tension that exists at the moment will not continue, that things will return to calm and de-escalation will occur.”
Kuleba informed his Greek counterpart about the current security situation in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions. Both ministers discussed the preparation by the EU of sanctions against Russia. The foreign ministers also agreed on a schedule of bilateral visits for 2022.
Greeks living in Ukraine for more than two and a half thousand years
Mariupol is located north-east of the Crimea peninsula which was Greek-speaking for more than two and a half thousand years as a part of ancient Greek colonies and as a part of the Byzantine Empire.
Greek city-states began establishing colonies along the Black Sea coast of Crimea in the 7th or 6th century BC. The majority of these colonies were established by Ionians from the city of Miletus in Asia Minor.
After the Fourth Crusade’s sacking of Constantinople fragmented the Byzantine Empire, the Crimea became a principality within the Greek Empire of Trebizond. When that state, which was centered on the eastern Black Sea coast and Pontic Alps of northeastern Anatolia, fell to the Ottomans in 1461, the Crimean Greek principality (Principality of Theodoro) remained independent, becoming subject to the Ottomans in 1475.
The beginning of the large-scale settlement of Greeks in the steppe region north of the Sea of Azov dates to the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74), when Catherine the Great of Russia invited Greeks of the Crimea to resettle to recently conquered lands (including founding Mariupol) to escape persecution in the then Muslim-dominated Crimea.
Due to the centuries of living under the Tatar and Turkish rule, many of the Greeks did not speak the Greek language anymore; thus the community was divided into the Greek-speaking Romeiis and the Turkic speaking Urums.
In the 20th century, the Rumeíka was the Greek dialect used by most Greek-speaking villages in the North Azov Sea Coast region. There are about 17 villages that speak this language today.