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Yiannis Kouros: The Greatest Ultramarathon Runner of All Time

Yiannis Kouros running
Yiannis Kouros: The Greatest Ultrarunner of All Time. Credit: AURA

Greek ultramarathon runner Yiannis Kouros holds many world records and has been dubbed “The Running God,” “The Golden Greek,” “Modern Pheidippides,” “The Master of Pain,” “The Unstoppable”, by his peers, running experts and the public. And all these epithets are more than well-deserved.

According to the website “Ultrarunning History,” the seasoned Greek athlete is the greatest ultrarunner of all time.

Ultrarunning experts have also calculated the miles the 63-year-old Greek runner has run since high school and came to the conclusion that Kouros has covered the distance from the earth to the moon.

According to his website, Kouros has broken more than 160 world records up to now — and perhaps most astoundingly, all of these remain unbroken. One of his peers, Canadian Trishal Cherns, has said, “There’s the elite, the world-class; then there’s Yiannis.”

Kouros was born in Tripolis, Arkadia, Greece on February 13, 1956. Born into a poor family in which there was strict discipline, he experienced a very tough childhood. He was only five when he was forced to perform manual labor to help the family economically.

He began running in a systematic manner at the age of 16 and soon devoted himself to long-distance running after his coach told him he was “too slow.” The hardships he had suffered as a child made Kouros a naturally tough, disciplined athlete who excelled in the punishing pursuit known as ultrarunning.

However, young Kouros had other interests and talents, too. He wrote 1,000 poems and became involved with music as well. He studied Byzantine and European music as well as singing.

He has released four records (two instrumental and two with vocals), writing all the lyrics and music himself. His poetry and music were inspired by Greek heroes such as King Leonidas and Greek Revolution fighter Theodoros Kolokotronis.

Yiannis Kouros, “The Running God”

But Kouros’ true calling is undeniably ultramarathon running. He ran his first marathon at the age of 21 in 1977, clocking the very respectable time of 2:43:15. His times continued to improve, down to 2:25 in 1981.

He won the Athens Marathon in 1981. By 1983, the Greek runner had finished 25 marathons. He discovered soon, however, that he excelled far more at ultra-distances, even longer than the traditional marathon.

It was that year that the Spartathlon started. The first such race – the distance from Marathon to Sparta, or 156 miles (251 km) – was run on September 30, 1983, with 45 starters. This was Kouros’ very first ultra-distance race. Event officials had estimated that the winner would arrive at Sparta in approximately 27 hours.

Kouros won with an official time of 21:53:42.

The Greek runner said that the English event sponsors refused to give him the cup, since they thought it was humanly impossible that a distance of 250 km could be covered in 21:50. However, as ultrarunning pioneer Dan Brannen declared, “He is the only runner for whom an accusation of cheating eventually became an honor.”

Kouros definitively proved that he had not cheated by returning to the race the next year, when he ran even faster, finishing in 20:25 — which has stood as a course record through to the present day.

In 1983 he also ran a three-day Ultramarathon in Austria and in 1984 he ran a six-day race in New York, covering a punishing 635 miles (1,030 km).

The Greek runner wrote about his experience in the New York race in his book “The Six-Day Run of the Century.” I had a fear of remaining a vegetable for the rest of my days, as after 24 hours, I felt my body no longer operating and I was carrying it without its consent.

“I thought I would not be able to walk again, though I made a conscious decision to write history. To expiate myself, I saw it as a sacrifice in an ancient drama. I knew I was leaving something behind me,” he explained.

He then wrote about finishing the effort: “I was running very fast, and because my toes were bleeding very much, many believed I would have to drop out. There I experienced how important the mental attitude is.

“I come to a point where my body is almost dead. My mind has to take leadership… I reached the stage to look at my body from above, from outwards, I mean like an out-of-body experience. I mean that your body has surrendered and you see yourself from above and behind and you somehow guide your body ahead. I am talking about incredible moments,” the ultra marathoner says.

In November 1984, he went all the way to Australia to run a six-day race in the city of Colac and finished first there. He repeated his victory by winning the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1987, 1989 and 1990.

By 1990 Kouros had run in almost every ultramarathon held around the world. It was in that year that, because of the Greek state’s unwillingness to support his athletic endeavors, he was forced to emigrate to Australia, where he lived for ten years.

The ultrarunner returned to Greece to live in 2000 and continued running with great success, in Greece and abroad. It is indeed remarkable that in 2005, at the age of 49 in Australia’s “Cliff Young” six-day race he broke his own world record made fully 21 years earlier.

“In ultrarunning there are no real limits. One can go on and on,” Kouros has explained to interviewers. “I try to achieve something special in each race… What Pheidippides did, going to Sparta just for a message and bring back a message to the Athenians, I’d like to think of myself as a messenger.

The iconic Greek runner adds “I want to inspire, to give the message that something is doable. Everything is possible as far as I am concerned as long as you go for it.”

Planet Nine: Space Hypothesis Might Be Real Scientists Say

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Planet Nine
The Mystery of Planet Nine at the Edge of Our Solar System. Credit: Tomruen background taken from File:ESO – Milky Way.jpg/Wikimedia Commons

A planet referred to as Planet Nine might possibly exist in the solar system’s outermost reaches. It would be the solar system’s first newly discovered planet to be recognized since 1846 if it is confirmed.

When dwarf planet Pluto was discovered in 1930, astronomers assumed this was the “ghost planet” they had been looking for. Scientists had previously perceived the influences of the gravitational pull of an additional planetary body. It was this search that concluded in the discovery of Pluto. 

However, when more research showed that Pluto was too small to have an impact on Neptune and Uranus, the search continued.

NASA declared that the orbits of outer worlds seemed normal according to calculations and no anomalies based on information gathered from Voyager 2’s fly-by of Neptune in 1989 had been detected. Hence, it appeared at this point that they had been looking for something that was in fact nonexistent.

When the Kuiper Belt was discovered in 1992, more evidence that Planet Nine might exist was revealed through its investigation. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of frozen bodies larger than 100 km (62 miles) in diameter in this enormous region of the solar system beyond Neptune in addition to at least a trillion comets.

Quaoar, Sedna, and Eris were discovered between 2002 and 2005, and all were designated as dwarf planets in 2006. Pluto is actually the best-known of the bigger objects in this group. Sedna has a lengthy, elliptical orbit that takes eleven thousand years to complete, according to scientists.

“Planet Nine” Could Be Found Within the Next Ten Years

Based on mathematical calculations and simulations, astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology declared in January 2015 that there might be a huge space rock lying far beyond Neptune. Research indicates that this hypothetical “Planet Nine” could be found within the next ten years, and several teams are currently engaged in the search.

When the solar system first formed, Jupiter may have ejected a large planet from its original orbit, according to the theories of Konstantin Batygin and Michael E. Brown. This giant planet may have been the core of Planet Nine.

Others suggested that the planet was a rogue planet that had either once gone wild and been kidnapped from another star or had formed on a distant orbit before being drawn into an erratic orbit by a passing star.

The perceived force of Planet Nine’s gravitational pull allowed scientists to estimate its mass and theorize what Planet Nine may look like.

Scientists believe it to be either a rocky super-Earth or a gaseous mini-Neptune based on its mass and location in space. Because it possibly shares features with Uranus or Neptune, they believe it to be an icy planet with a solid core.

However, researchers are also looking into the possibility that “Planet Nine” is actually a grapefruit-sized black hole that warps space in a manner similar to that of a massive planet.

Another team contends that rather than a mysterious world or black hole, the peculiar motions of the distant Kuiper Belt inhabitants may really be the result of the combined influence of multiple tiny objects.

According to earlier calculations, Planet Nine would have to be five to ten times the mass of Earth with an extended orbit four hundred to eight hundred times further from the Sun than Earth.

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Pan-STARRS sky surveys have not yet located Planet Nine, but they have not ruled out the possibility of an object with a Neptune-diameter in the outer solar system.

The capacity of earlier sky surveys to find Planet Nine was influenced by both positions and properties of objects in the solar system. 

Utilizing NEOWISE and the eight-meter Subaru Telescope, additional studies of remaining areas are currently being conducted. Without direct observation, Planet Nine’s existence can only be assumed.

The apparent grouping of trans-Neptunian objects has been explained by a number of other theories.

 

 

New Study Finds Dogs can Detect Stress in Humans

cute dog puppy
Dogs can Detect Stress in Humans Credit: public domain

Dogs can detect the physiological processes associated with an acute psychological stress response, which produces changes in human breath and sweat, with an accuracy of 93.75 percent.

The new study was conducted by Clara Wilson and colleagues of Queen’s University Belfast, UK, published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers wondered whether dogs could sense chemical signals and respond to their owner’s psychological states since these signals which are emitted by the body through odors have primarily evolved for communication within species.

The research focused on dogs not only because of their remarkable sense of smell but also due to their close domestication history with humans and their use in supporting human psychological conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Samples of breath and sweat were collected from non-smokers who had not eaten or drunk recently. These samples were collected both before and after a fast-paced mathematical task. Research subjects were also required to self-report stress levels, and objective physiological measures, including heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP), were also assessed.

Tests conducted on 36 participants with stress increase

Researchers collected samples from thirty-six participants who reported both an increase in stress and showed HR and BP during the mathematical task. Trained dogs were then exposed to these samples within three hours of collection.

To match odors in a discrimination task, researchers used a clicker and a kibble to train the four different breeds and mixed-breed dogs. The dogs were asked to identify a participant’s stress sample which was collected at the end of the mathematical task. The same person’s sample collected during a stress-free moment only minutes prior to the beginning of the task was also in the sample line-up.

After only a single time the dogs were exposed to a participant’s “stressed” and “relaxed” samples so to say, the dogs were able to accurately alert of stress samples 94.44 percent of the time. Accuracy rates of individual dogs in the task ranged from 90 percent to 96.88 percent.

Overall, dogs could accurately detect and alert of stress using the samples provided in 675 out of 720 trails, or 93.75 percent of the time. This is a much greater rate than initially estimated and expected by chance (p˂0.001).

Findings revealed human-dog relationship

This new finding tells us more about the human-dog relationship and could have implications in the training of anxiety and PTSD service dogs currently trained to respond predominantly to visual cues.

Dogs can detect odors associated with the change in Volatile Organic Compounds produced by humans in response to stress as revealed by the researchers and authors.

According to researchers, “This study demonstrates that dogs can discriminate between the breath and sweat taken from humans before and after a stress-inducing task.”

“This finding tells us that an accurate, negative, psychological stress response alters the odor profile of our breath and sweat and that dogs are able to detect this change in odor,” the researchers concluded.

 

Mysterious Ancient Greek Stone Spheres Could Be Part of a Game

Stone Spheres Found in Greece Could Be From Ancient Board Game. university of Bristol
Stone Spheres Found in Greece Could Be From Ancient Board Game. Credit: Konstantinos Trimmis / University of Bristol

Archaeologists from the University of Bristol have discovered that mysterious stone spheres found at various ancient settlements across the Aegean could be playing pieces from an ancient board game.

There has been quite a lot of speculation around these spheres found at ancient sites across Santorini, Crete, Cyprus, and other Greek islands with theories suggesting that they could have been used as ancient sling stones, tossing balls, or counters / pawns. Alternatively, they could have been used for counting or record-keeping purposes.

Previous research conducted by the same team of archaeologists from the University of Bristol indicated that there was variability in sphere size within specific clusters and collections of spheres. The team expressed the need to explore potential patterning within sphere concentrations in future studies in order to attain further insight into potential usage.

Stone Spheres_University of Bristol
An interpretation of how the spheres could be associated. Credit: Konstantinos Trimmis / University of Bristol

Key findings in the Aegean

The new study, which was published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports contains reports by Dr. Christianne Fernée and Dr. Konstantinos Trimmis from the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology. The two researchers examined common features in a total of seven hundred stones that are believed to be around 3,600 to 4,500 years old. These were found at the Bronze Age town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini.

The stones, which are smaller than golf balls, consist of various colors and are made from a variety of materials. The stones were categorized into two groups of large and small stones. In addition, in Akrotiri and in other settlements across the Aegean, there are stone slabs with shallow cup marks where the spheres could have been placed.

Aegean spheres could be part of an ancient board game

According to Ferneé, “The most important finding of the study is that the speres fit two major clusters (one of smaller and one of larger stones). This supports the hypothesis that they were used as counters for a board game with the spheres most possibly have been collected to fit these clusters rather than a counting system for which you would expect more groupings.”

If it is proven that these mysterious spheres found in the Aegean are in fact part of an ancient board game, they will be one of the earliest examples of such artifacts—along with similar examples from the Levant and Egypt, such as the Egyptian Mehen and Senet.

Stone Spheres_University of Bristol
If their research proves that these mysterious spheres are in fact part of a board game, they will be one of the earliest examples of such artifacts. Credit: Konstantinos Trimmis / University of Bristol

Trimmis added that “the social importance of the spheres, as indicated by the way they were deposited in specific cavities, further supports the idea of the spheres being part of a game that was played for social interaction.”

“This gives…new insight into…social interaction in the Bronze Age Aegean,” Trimmis concluded.

In order for analysis to be concluded, the cup marks must be examined to determine whether there is a potential association between the spheres and the slabs. The team hopes to use state of the art artificial intelligence techniques to determine how the game was actually played.

 

Nord Stream Gas Leak Could Lead to Climate Disaster

Nord Stream Gas Leak
The Defence Command of Denmark has made public a picture which depicts gas leakage at Nord Stream 2 as seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on September 27th. Credit: Danish Defence Command

According to experts, explosions in the Nord Stream pipelines that run from Russia to Europe could lead to extraordinary damage to the environment due to leakage of natural gas found on the surface of the Baltic Sea.

Methane, a greenhouse gas many times more environmentally harmful than carbon dioxide, found in the leakage of the Nord Stream pipeline ruptures could result in the biggest release of greenhouse gas into the water and atmosphere on record, potentially turning into a climate disaster.

More than one hundred thousand metric tons of natural gas are bubbling on the surface of the Baltic Sea over a one-kilometer area. Experts say that around ninety percent of the leak is comprised of methane with potentially catastrophic effects on climate.

The volume of methane within the leak is as much as five times more than the methane which escaped into the environment in the infamous Aliso Canyon disaster in 2016, during which 97,700 tons of methane were released, though at a much slower pace than the Nord Stream leakage.

According to the head of the Danish Energy Agency, Kristoffer Bottzauw, the leakage could potentially be equivalent to one-third of Denmark’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate disaster

Experts worry that the damage on the Nord Stream pipelines could be so large that it will eventually contribute heavily to the world’s emissions of methane into the atmosphere. The atmosphere, as is widely known, is already burdened by the effects of gas, oil, and coal infrastructure.

Jackson and David Hastings, a retired chemical oceanographer in Gainesville, Florida, estimated that the leak could release around half a million tons of methane.

The leak was discovered earlier this week. Shocking footage released by the Danish military from a flyover of the affected region showed huge swathes of the Baltic Sea churning as the gas bubbled to the surface.

A military statement claimed that the largest leak “is spreading bubbles a good kilometer (3,280 feet) in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about two hundred meters (656 feet) in diameter.”

The operator of Nord Stream 1 said the undersea lines had simultaneously sustained “unprecedented” damage in a single day. Both pipelines have been flashpoints in the energy tussle between Moscow and Europe.

On Thursday, Sweden’s Coast Guard confirmed a fourth leak in the pipelines. A Swedish vessel near the source of two leaks in Swedish waters is reporting a steady flow of gas to the surface.

Andrew Baxter, a chemical engineer at the environmental group EDP stated that the pipelines could release emissions equaling the annual emissions of two million cars. “That’s one thing that is consistent with these estimates,”  said Baxter. “It’s catastrophic for the climate.”

According to Paul Balcombe, a member of the engineering faculty at the department of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, the effects of these leaks are still coming into focus but are likely to be significant. “It would have a very large environmental and climate impact indeed—even if it released a fraction of this,” Balcombe said.

Rowan Emslie, a spokesperson at CATF, said many gas production factories had “safety systems” designed to burn any gas that escaped in a leak since this is preferable to allowing the raw methane to enter the atmosphere.

“It’s still CO2 emissions, [and] it’s still bad, but it’s not nearly so bad,” Emslie stated.

It’s really the pace at which the gas has entered the atmosphere that is concerning.

“The unprecedented aspect is that we don’t think we’ve seen a leak this large, [or] this fast before,” Emslie said, “which is why it’s so worrying.”

The fact that the Nord Stream leaks occurred underwater complicates matters further. Factors as varied as the size of the gas bubbles, the concentration of methane-eating microbes in the water, and the depth from which the gas traveled upward, can all affect the overall environmental impact.

Accident or sabotage?

Russia, the US, and European allies have accused each other of deliberately sabotaging the gas pipelines, as the Russian invasion in Ukraine intensifies.

“There is no doubt that these were explosions,” SNSN seismologist Bjorn Lund told broadcaster SVT, suggesting the pipelines were likely sabotaged.

“You can clearly see how the waves bounce from the bottom to the surface,” he said. “There is no doubt that it was a blast.” He added that the first explosion was recorded at 2:03 am on the night of Monday and the second at 7:04 pm on Monday evening.

Ukrainian Presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, has described the major leaks in two Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea as a “terrorist attack.”

In a statement on Twitter, he called for more arms and said that Russia wants to destabilize the economic situation in Europe and cause pre-winter panic.

On Tuesday evening, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the “sabotage” and “deliberate disruption of active European energy infrastructure.”

 

 

 

Football’s Real Home Was in Ancient Greece, Ancient Artifact Reveals

Football’s Real Home Was in Ancient Greece. Credit: Public Domain

A relief exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece shows an ancient  Greek youth practicing by balancing a football on his thigh in front of a small boy. This means that football, albeit in a primitive form, is at least 2,400 years old and very likely has its origins in ancient Greece.

Looking at this lovely ancient artifact today, one can say that the man seems to be showing his son how to control the ball like an ancient Greek Lionel Messi.

According to archaeologists, the depiction of the figure playing with the ball dates back to the third quarter of the 4th century BC (400-375 BC).

Football in Ancient Greece was called Episkyros

Episkyros was a football game played in ancient Greece between two teams of usually twelve to fourteen players each with one ball; the rules of the game at that time allowed the use of hands.

The objective was to throw the ball over the heads of the other team. There was a white line called the skyros between the teams and another white line behind each team.

The ball would change sides often until one team was forced behind the line at their end.

A version of the Episkyros game was played in Sparta during an annual city festival and included five teams of fourteen players.

Later on, the Romans took over Episkyros, renaming it and transforming it into “harpastum,” a Latinization of the Greek word harpaston (ἁρπαστόν), meaning ‘snatching’ (the ball).

Episkyros turning into today’s football

The traces of Episkyros, the football of Ancient Greece, have been lost through the centuries as European powers shifted and societies changed.

But much like the ancient Olympic sports which have been transformed into the modern versions we watch today, so is today’s football adapting to ever-changing standards and eras.

Hence, as episkyros was the mother of today’s football, to paraphrase the English slogan, football came home, indeed, to Greece on July 4, 2004.

The story of the European Football (UEFA )

uefa cup and ancient greek football
UEFA Trophy inspired by n 2,400 years old Ancient Greek artifact of a man playing with a football in front of a boy. Credit: GreekReporter Collage

The idea for a European nations cup belongs to Frenchman Henri Delaunay. It was first conceived in the 1920s.

However, various social upheavals, along with hostilities between nations and World War II, put a halt in the realization of Delaunay’s bold vision.

It was up to Delaunay’s son, Pierre, who succeeded his late father as UEFA general secretary in 1956 to carry the torch that led to the decision for the UEFA Euro tournament.

Pierre Delaunay wanted the Cup awarded to the best European national football team as a way of paying tribute to the “godmother” of Europe, Greece.

“Europe is a word of Greek origin,” Delaunay explained to UEFA Direct in an interview in September 2005. “Europe certainly originated in the Mediterranean Basin, and Greece invented the Olympic Games.”

“So, I thought,” he continued, “it would be a good idea to find an ancient Greek artifact, depicting a ball if possible—something which was not particularly common—and reproduce this in the form of a trophy,” he noted.

A Greek journalist who was a friend of Constantin Constantaras, a member of the (UEFA) Executive Committee, found a sculpture of an athlete controlling a ball at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

“The Parisian silversmith Chobillon, who was commissioned to make the trophy, reproduced it on the cup, on the opposite side to the title,” Delaunay recounted.

The fact that the UEFA Euro takes place every four years may also be because the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, and today, are held every four years.

It is also no coincidence that Pierre Delaunay chose to have the Euro taking place during the same year as the Olympics.

Ukraine Officially Applies for NATO Membership

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Ukraine has formally submitted its application to join the NATO alliance. Credit: President of Ukraine

Ukraine has formally submitted its application to join the NATO alliance, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Friday.

Zelensky, in a video update, said Ukraine was “taking a decisive step for…[the] security of free nations.”

Russia has long feared Ukraine joining the alliance since it got closer to the West, and Putin has repeatedly issued threats to scare the nation into staying out of it.

Ukraine a de facto part of NATO

If Ukraine’s application is successful and it officially joins the alliance, member states would be obligated to defend it against Russia. This means that both the UK and the US would be obliged to send military troops.

According to Zelensky, “We have already made our way to NATO. We have already proven compatibility with the alliance’s standards.”

He added that “they are real for Ukraine—real on the battlefield and in all aspects of our interaction. We trust each other, we help each other, and we protect each other. That’s what the alliance is. De facto.”

“Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure,” the Ukrainian President said. “In a process that is consistent with our value in protecting our entire community in an expedited manner, we are taking our decisive step by signing Ukraine’s application for accelerated accession to NATO.”

 

Putin: we will defend our land with all our strength

Ukraine’s decision to join NATO comes just after Russia said it would annex four regions of Ukraine that it seized amid its war. Russia held gunpoint referendums in the regions, though these were viewed as illegitimate by the international community.

In a grand signing ceremony at the Great Kremlin Palace today, Putin welcomed the seized regions of Ukraine to Russia. During the ceremony, Putin formally declared Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia as Russian territory.

In his speech, Putin maintained, “people living in Luhansk, Donetsk, [and the] Kherson…and Zaporizhzhia [regions] are becoming our citizens forever,” as “people have made their choice—and that choice is beyond any doubt […]. This is the will of millions of people.” The Russian leader also vowed to “defend our land with all means” and said the people living in the purportedly stolen Ukrainian regions are “our citizens forever.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he would hold a briefing on Friday, September 30, 2022 at 7 PM.

 

 

Greece on its Way to Becoming Fastest Aging Country in the EU

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greece old
The population decline in Greece will lead it to become the fastest-aging country in the EU by 2030. Credit: Greek Reporter

The population decline in Greece, which has been steady since 2011, will lead the country to have the oldest people in the EU by 2030. That is the conclusion of a recent report by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, about the declining population in the Union.

If the report’s predictions come true, Greece will take the aging lead over Italy in the EU. With half of Greeks already over 50 years old, EU Commission estimates that the country’s population will decrease by almost a million in 2050 and by 2 million in 2070.

This data is consistent with the results of the census conducted earlier in 2022 which shows that the population in Greece has shrunk by 3.5 percent during the last decade.

According to the data of the country-wide census, the current population of permanent residents is 10,432,481. Of those, 5,357,232 are female while 5,075,249 are male.

Attica, the most populous region of Greece, registered 3,792,469 permanent residents. This marks a decrease of 35,965 compared to the last census of 2011.

Central Macedonia is the second most populous region of Greece with 1,792,069 inhabitants. The population has decreased by 90,039 compared to 2011.

Overall, twelve out of thirteen regions in Greece have registered a drop in population, according to the ELSTAT census.

Several other recent research finds confirm this trend.

One of them, published in 2021 by the Health Research Policy and Systems in collaboration with WHO, concludes that the two countries will “acquire the characteristics of an aging population, putting significant pressure on the social and health systems of both countries.”

It points out that both Greece and Cyprus should reform their social and health policy agenda to confront population aging and its consequence. They should “adopt fertility incentives and family policies to increase fertility, and migrants’ inclusiveness policies to improve the demographic structure and the economic activity.”

The almost decade-long financial crisis in Greece has led to an increase in the death / birth ratio. All the more Greek couples and single women are choosing not to procreate, given the country’s economic dire straits. Pessimism in general is at an all-time high.

population chart Greece
The population curve has been seriously dipping since 2011. Source, Credit: Eurostat

Greece rapidly aging by the minute

Another factor in the aging of the population is the reluctance of the Greek state to accept, include and put to work some of the migrants reaching its shores. This attitude, shared by the majority of Greek society, may slowly lead to the breakdown of the already semi-bankrupt Greek Social Security system.

Recent Eurostat data and demographic projections in the EU show that over the last four decades in Greece, student and pupil numbers have been decreasing. At the same time, the economically active population is shrinking.

Australia: Where Greek Migrants Got Second Chance at New Life

Greeks Australia
Greeks arriving in Australia in the 1920s. Credit: Public Domain

The story of how Greeks migrated from their native land to Australia is an interesting one. In 1829 the first known Greeks arrived in Australia. And they did not arrive voluntarily.

They were a group of seven sailors who were transported to New South Wales to serve a sentence for piracy that was handed down to them by a British naval court.

The sailors were eventually pardoned, but two of them decided to stay and settle in Australia. Although they could have never known it at the time, they would soon be joined by many other sailors from their homeland.

From sailors to miners

During the mid-1800s the first Greek communities in Victoria were established, as many Greek sailors abandoned their ships in Australian waters when they arrived at the country after hearing that gold had been found there. The sailors quickly decided to give up life at sea to become miners.

However, there was a catch — with the gold rush of the 1850s many of the Greek sailors who had turned miners were in Australia alone, with no women. Since they had originally planned to return to Greece when they were still sailing the seas, few women came to join them. Just a few decades after the surge of immigration there were only 19 Greek-born women living in Victoria, in contrast to 127 Greek men!

This situation changed drastically by the turn of the century as a remarkable community of Greeks in Australia began to take form, comprising mostly relatives of the Greeks already established there, who had heard of the opportunities for work and a better life from their family members.

The first Greek Orthodox communities of Melbourne and Victoria were founded in 1897 and in 1901, respectively, following the creation of the Greek Orthodox church in Melbourne.

Greeks arriving in Australia
Greeks arriving in Australia in the 1920s. Credit: Public Domain

During the mid 1900s, at the beginning of World War I, Greece remained neutral until it eventually joined the side of the Allies. Because of their initial neutrality, in 1916 the Australian government placed a special prohibition on the entry of Greeks to Australia, which remained active until 1920.

The real surge of Greeks to Australia came some years later, following World War II as well as the civil war in Greece, where it is estimated that more than 160,000 Greek citizens emigrated to Australia, mainly to the state of Victoria.

A boat of brides to Australia

The famous event known as “The brides of 1957″ brought more Greek women to the country. The “brides” were a group of 900 single Greek women who boarded a ship called the “Begoña” in Greece to travel to Australia in order to marry. Incredibly, the men for whom they were destined were known to them only by a photograph and a name.

Greek brides on the Begona Australia
Greek brides on the Begona in 1957. Credit: Screenshot from video

Over the years the Greek-Australian community has become one of the largest in population outside of Greece, with government statistics estimating over 600,000 people of Greek heritage living throughout the country.

The History of Donbas’ Donetsk and Luhansk Regions Annexed by Russia

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Donbas
The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, monitors the movement of heavy artillery through the Donbas region in 2015. Credit: OSCE/ CC BY 2.0

Russian President Vladimir Putin officially annexed the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known together as the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, along with two other regions.

In a ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday, September 30, he pronounced that the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the east as well as in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south are now part of the Russian Federation.

It was yet another pivotal, wrenching moment in the long and turbulent history of the area.

Ukraine is the second-largest country in all of Europe, after Russia itself. But like Russia, its past is one marked by great political upheaval and a string of tragedies that have changed the makeup of its society over time.

Donbas the scene of great influx of peoples

Now home to a majority of Russian-speaking people, they moved there only in recent decades. Now, Russia has given more than 720,000 Russian passports to roughly one-fifth of the region’s population, according to The Associated Press.

This effectively makes them Russian citizens and creates a pretext for war, as the country can state that its troops are being sent there to protect Russian citizens.

Known for many centuries as the “Wild Fields” in the Ukrainian language, although it was basically unpopulated up until  the second half of the 17th century, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that comprise the Donbas includes both areas that are controlled by Kyiv  as well as those that are under Russian separatist rule.

The word Donbass (or Donbas,) a portmanteau from Donets Basin, is an abbreviation of the phrase “Donets Coal Basin;” clearly its ore reserves have been the greatest draw for those who covet its riches. Its vast coal reserves have allowed for the growth of major steel production in the area.

The historical coal mining region also included areas in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and Southern Russia as well, while a Euroregion of the same name is composed of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in Ukraine and Rostov Oblast in Russia.

Although it has been an important coal mining area since the late 19th century, when it became heavily industrialized, the region was almost completely depopulated after being inhabited for centuries by various nomadic tribes such as the Scythians, Alans, Huns, Bulgars, Pechenegs, Kipchaks, Turco-Mongols, Tatars and Nogais.

The Donbas lay largely unpopulated for some time until the second half of the 1600s, when Don Cossacks established the first permanent settlements in the region. The first town in the region was founded in 1676, called Solanoye (now Soledar), which became home to a profitable business based on the newly discovered rock-salt reserves nearby.

Donbas painting
“The Poor Colelcting Coal,” by Nikolas Kasatkin, Donbas, 1894. Credit: Public Domain

Cossacks, Turkic Crimeans, Russians, Serbians and Greeks all moved to Donbas

The Donbas remained for the most part under the control of the Ukrainian Cossack Hetmanate and the Turkic Crimean Khanate until the mid-late 18th century, when the Russian Empire conquered the Hetmanate and annexed the Khanate.

At the end of the 18th century many Russians, Serbs and Greeks migrated to the region. At that time, Russia then named the conquered territories “New Russia.” As the Industrial Revolution expanded all across Europe, the enormous coal resources of the region, which were first discovered in 1721, began to be exploited in the mid-late 19th century.

The river valley of the Donets is the center of the coal deposits. The meteoric rise of the coal industry led to a population boom in the region, which was largely driven by Russian settlers. The region was then comprised of the counties of Bakhmut, Slovianserbsk and Mariupol, the latter being a Greek city in which many Greeks still live.

Further coal exploitation led to even more Russian influence in the region after the founding of Donetsk, its largest city, in 1869 by Welsh businessman John Hughes. Located in the old Zaporozhian Cossack town of Oleksandrivka, the entire city was renamed “Yuzovka” after Hughes, who built a steel mill there.

With the growth of Yuzovka and similar cities which were based on the rich natural resources of the area came landless peasants from peripheral governorates of the Russian Empire who moved there looking for work. Yuzovka was later renamed “Donetsk” by the Soviet Union in 1924.

According to the Russian Imperial Census of 1897, Ukrainians comprised 52.4% of the population of the region, while ethnic Russians comprised 28.7%. Greeks, Germans, Jews and Tatars also had a significant presence in the Donbas, particularly in the district of Mariupol, where they comprised 36.7% of the population.

The Donbas, a scene of upheaval, revolution — and genocide

But it was Russians who made up the majority of the industrial workforce and the population of cities while Ukrainians dominated rural areas. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians who moved to the cities for work were quickly assimilated into the Russian-speaking worker class, a trend which was accelerated after the rise of the Bolsheviks and the formation of the Soviet Union.

In April of 1918 troops loyal to the Ukrainian People’s Republic took control of large parts of the region. For a while, its government bodies operated in the Donbas alongside their Russian Provisional Government equivalents. The Ukrainian State, the successor of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, was able in May 1918 to bring the region under control for a short time with the help of its German and Austro-Hungarian allies.

Along with other territories inhabited by Ukrainians, the Donbas was incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic after the Russian Civil War. Cossacks in the region were subjected to  a campaign called “decossackisation” from 1919–1921.

“To kill by starvation”

Ukrainians living in the Donbas were further decimated by the state-sponsored 1932–33 Holodomor (meaning ‘to kill by starvation’) famine and the Russification policy of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Since most ethnic Ukrainians were rural peasant farmers, they bore the brunt of the famine, with the government confiscating their land and removing any means they had to feed themselves.

The term Holodomor emphasizes the famine’s man-made and intentional aspects of the atrocity, including rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs and restriction of population movement so that no one was allowed to leave the region to find sustenance elsewhere.

As part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–1933 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country, millions of inhabitants of Ukraine — the majority of whom by now were ethnic Ukrainians — died of starvation in a peacetime catastrophe that was unprecedented in the history of the country.

Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government.

Early estimates of the death toll by scholars and government officials varied greatly. A United Nations joint statement signed by 25 countries in 2003 declared that 7–10 million perished. Current scholarship estimates a range of 4 to 7 million victims, with more precise estimates ranging from 3.3 to 5 million.

According to the findings of the Court of Appeal of Kyiv in 2010, the total demographic losses due to the famine amounted to 10 million, however, with 3.9 million direct famine deaths, and a further 6.1 million birth deficits.

Russification stepped up after depopulation from WWII

Donbas was greatly affected by the Second World War. War preparations resulted in an extension of the working day for factory laborers, while those who could not produce according to the new standards were arrested.

Adolf Hitler viewed the resources of the Donbas as critical to Operation Barbarossa, his plan for the invasion of Russia. The region accordingly suffered greatly under Nazi occupation during 1941 and 1942.

Thousands of industrial laborers were deported to Germany and forced to work in factories. In the Donetsk Oblast alone, 279,000 civilians were killed over the course of the occupation. In what is now now the Luhansk Oblast, 45,649 were killed. The 1943 Donbas strategic offensive by the Red Army resulted in the return of Donbas to Soviet control, but the famine and the war had taken an enormous toll, leaving the region both destroyed and once again depopulated.

It was during the subsequent period of reconstruction that the Donbass received its most recent wave of Russian citizens after masses of Russian workers descended on the area after the War.

By 1959, the number of ethnic Russians living there was 2.55 million; just 33 years prior, it had been just 639,000. The Russification of the area accelerated after the 1958–59 Soviet educational reforms, which led to the near elimination of all Ukrainian-language schooling in the Donbas.

According to the Soviet Census of 1989, 45% of the population of the region reported their ethnicity as Russian.

So it is no surprise that in the 1991 referendum on Ukrainian independence, 83.9% of voters in Donetsk and 83.6% in Luhansk supported independence from the Soviet Union. In October of 1991 a congress of southeastern deputies from all levels of government took place in Donetsk, where delegates demanded federalization.

Constant unrest after 2014

The region’s economy deteriorated severely in the ensuing years, however, and by 1993, industrial production had collapsed, with average wages falling by 80% since 1990. Donbas was then in total crisis, with many accusing the new central government in Kyiv of mismanagement and neglect.

Donbas’ invaluable coal miners went on strike in 1993, causing a conflict that was described by historian Lewis Siegelbaum as “a struggle between the Donbas region and the rest of the country.” One strike leader said that Donbas people had voted for independence because they wanted “power to be given to the localities, enterprises, cities”, not because they wanted heavily centralized power moved from “Moscow to Kyiv.”

This strike was followed by a 1994 consultative referendum on various constitutional questions in Donetsk and Luhansk, held concurrently with the first parliamentary elections in independent Ukraine.

These questions included whether Russian should be declared an official language of Ukraine, whether Russian should be the language of administration in Donetsk and Luhansk, whether Ukraine should federalise, and whether Ukraine should have closer ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the remnants of the Soviet Union.

Almost 90% of voters voted in favor of these propositions; however, none of them were adopted: Ukraine remained a unitary state, Ukrainian was retained as the sole official language, and the Donbas gained no autonomy.

In March of 2014, following the Euromaidan and the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, large swaths of the Donbas experienced major unrest. This later grew into a war, with pro-Russian separatists affiliated with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” both of which are now recognized by Russia but not by any other member of the United Nations as legitimate.

Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions took over government buildings in 2014, proclaiming the regions as independent “people’s republics” after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Since 2014, more than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting in the Donbas region between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of backing the separatists both militarily and financially.

Amid the fighting, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board in a shocking event which catapulted the unrest onto the world stage once again. International investigators concluded the missile was supplied by Russia and fired from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists; Russia has denied involvement in the shooting down of the airplane.

On Monday, Putin announced the independence of the regions after meeting with the Russian Security Council following a video appeal by the regions’ separatist leaders for the recognition of independence.

Each of the regions has its own self-proclaimed president, with Denis Pushilin elected in 2018 to lead the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, while Leonid Pasechnik is the leader of the Luhansk separatist region.

Russia’s recognition of the independence of the regions on Monday in effect ends the Minsk peace agreements, which were never fully implemented in any case. The agreements, which were signed in 2014 and 2015, had called for a large amount of autonomy for the two regions within Ukraine.