Tens of thousands of ethnic Greeks residing in Ukraine are living on the edge as more than 100,000 Russian troops have circled the country, threatening to invade.
On Monday, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged its citizens to leave Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion, joining many nations around the globe that have already withdrawn citizens and diplomatic staff.
Greek Reporter spoke to two ethnic Greeks who are Ukrainian citizens, to gauge their feelings and fears as the crisis between Ukraine and Russia appeared to escalate.
No panic among the Greeks of Ukraine
“The Greek community in Ukraine has the same feelings as other people living here. Nobody wants war,” says Nina Pascal, the President of the Greek society “Enotita” (Unity) in Kyiv.
“We are deeply concerned about the current situation because it started to influence everyday life and it potentially threatens the lives of many people.”
However, she tells Greek Reporter that there is no panic.
“There is no panic, the war started in 2014, so it’s not the first experience of Russian threats and aggression but many people are of course worried about current escalation. Most Greeks in Ukraine live near the front line and any kind of Russian aggression will be devastating.”
She adds that since the Greek Foreign Ministry advised the citizens of Greece to leave Ukraine, some people did in fact leave.
“But overall, the majority of ethnic Greeks in Ukraine are Ukrainian citizens and they live here, it’s their home. We don’t see any massive tendency for people to escape abroad,” Pascal says.
People in Ukraine have lived through many wars and upheavals
Bella Terzi is a producer living in Kyiv with roots in the city of Mariupol, the epicenter of the Greek presence in Ukraine, the place where her mother was born.
She visited Mariupol last Autumn to attend the Greek festival in the town, which brings together not just the Greek community but other national minorities living in Ukraine.
“Unlike many people in the West, who are stressed and anxious about what may happen here, people in Mariupol and the rest of Ukraine are more relaxed. They have lived through many upheavals and wars in the last 25 years that they have learned to take each crisis on their stride.”
She notes all the crises that Ukraine experienced in recent years, from the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, the 2008 economic crisis, the 2014 Russian invasion, and then the pandemic — and now this.
“This country is constantly in a stressful situation. There is a whole generation that does not know how normal life is,” Terzi states.
No panic buying
“If you go to a Ukrainian supermarket now you will see that there is no panic buying. Nobody is rushing to buy toilet paper or rice or any other goods. Nobody is filling their cars with fuel. These are some recommendations of foreign embassies to the staff, but Ukrainians are not behaving as if they are in panic,” Terzi tells Greek Reporter.
Greeks in Mariupol are loyal Ukrainians, she adds, saying that during the festivals in Mariupol, the Greek flag always flies next to the Ukrainian.
The Crimea region was Greek-speaking for more than two and a half thousand years as a part of ancient Greek colonies that were later a part of the Byzantine Empire.
In 1779 Russia moved almost all ethnic Greeks to the Azov area where they set up Mariupol.
In the twentieth century, Rumeíka was the Greek dialect used by most Greek-speaking villages in the North Azov Sea Coast region. Today there are only about 17 villages where the people speak this language today.
Many ethnic Greeks suffered greatly during Stalin’s terror campaign against minorities in the 1930s. Terzi’s grandfather was among those shot and killed by the Soviets. Greek officials estimate that there are currently up to 100,000 ethnic Greeks living in Ukraine.