Greece announced on Monday that two ethnic Greeks were fatally shot and two others were seriously injured during an incident in Ukraine.
The fatal incident involving three Ukrainian soldiers happened in the village of Granitna, near the country’s eastern border, Greece’s Foreign Ministry ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the incident took place after an argument over an “insignificant matter.” No more details were immediately available.
The ministry expressed its condolences to the families of the victims.
Earlier, Greece urged its citizens to leave Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion on Monday, joining many nations around the globe that have already withdrawn citizens and diplomatic staff.
In an announcement, Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that it “strongly discourages all travel throughout the territory of Ukraine,” and at the same time it “recommends Greek citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.
“Greek citizens who have not already left are also advised to immediately report their contact details to the Greek Embassy in Kyiv.”
Athens notes that the staff of the Kyiv Embassy has been reduced down to what is absolutely necessary, and adds that staff of the Consulate General of Mariupol will be strengthened.
Mariupol, situated northeast of the Crimea peninsula, is the epicenter of the Greek presence in Ukraine.
Greek community in Ukraine
Mariupol 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 Tatar and Turkish rule, many of the Greeks did not speak the Greek language any longer; thus the community was divided into the Greek-speaking Romeiis and the Turkic-speaking Urums.
In the 20th century, Rumeíka was the Greek dialect used by most Greek-speaking villages in the North Azov Sea Coast region. There are about 17 villages where the people speak this language today.
Greece affirmed in January its solidarity with the tens of thousands of Greeks living near the Crimea in Ukraine as tensions with Russia intensified.
Calls to leave Ukraine
Fearing an invasion of Ukraine by Russia, many countries are urging their citizens there to leave and are cutting back their diplomatic staff.
Among the countries that have called on their nationals to leave Ukraine are the United States, Germany, Italy, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Australia, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
France advised against travel to border areas of northern and eastern Ukraine, but has not told its citizens to leave the country.
Romania, which borders Ukraine, has strongly recommended its nationals avoid travel to the country and to “re-evaluate the need to stay” if already there.
European Union bodies recommended non-essential diplomatic personnel in Kyiv leave the country and telecommute from abroad.
Romania has withdrawn non-essential personnel from its embassy in Kyiv, and Israel has evacuated the families of embassy diplomats and staff.