Russian bombs rupture a Greek neighborhood preventing for its historical past


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When Afina Khadzhynova fled Mariupol on March 15, she had 10 minutes to throw collectively just a few necessities for the hazardous journey away from Russia’s bombs — paperwork, blankets, emergency meals provides. 

Left behind: A whole archive documenting the historical past of the Roumeans, a part of the ethnic Greek inhabitants that has lived in southern Ukraine for generations. It’s one of many largest and oldest teams of ethnic Greeks outdoors Greece. 

That historical past dangers being misplaced amid the near-total destruction of Mariupol and its surrounding villages. The port metropolis of 450,000 has skilled a number of the worst destruction since Russia despatched its troops streaming into Ukraine. Amid that onslaught, a minimum of 10 ethnic Greeks have been killed, in response to Greek officers, and numerous others have been compelled out of their houses — and away from the supplies that protect their tradition.

“What do you are taking first from your own home?” Khadzhynova mirrored. “We’ve footage, we have now artworks, and we have now the archive. It received’t slot in a suitcase; we weren’t able to take it.”

Her father, a schoolteacher and folklorist within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s, had spent his life constructing the gathering, which tells the Roumean story by means of a reservoir of images, poems and songs. That story is now saved in a house beneath Russian siege which will have already been destroyed.

“It’s all nonetheless there, a complete archive of Roumean historical past and tradition,” she stated. “It’s such a loss.”  

It’s simply one among many losses amid the Russian onslaught that has imperiled the Greek neighborhood inside Ukraine — and its connection to Athens. 

Efforts to protect the group’s cultural heritage had beforehand helped problem the stereotype that Ukrainian Greeks had been overly pro-Russian. Now, with the neighborhood scattered and out of contact, Russia is taking benefit, pushing the narrative that Ukrainian Greeks blame Kyiv’s navy for committing the atrocities which are, in actuality, linked to Russian brutality. Some Greek media retailers have even amplified that narrative again dwelling.

“Greece isn’t doing something,” Khadzhynova stated. “And the Russians now are utilizing Greeks to point out that they’re pro-Russian.”

A multicentury historical past

Roumeans are a part of the North Azovian Greek neighborhood, which is descended from the Greeks that Russia moved within the 18th century from Crimea into what’s now jap Ukraine. 

The group, which incorporates about 70,000 individuals, is break up into Roumeans, whose language is much like fashionable Greek, and Urums, who communicate a Turkic language near fashionable Crimean Tatar. Each languages are spoken solely on this southeast nook of Ukraine, and had been each critically endangered earlier than the struggle, with no state applications to protect them by means of educating in faculties. 

Khadzhynova, born within the village of Sartana, was one among a grassroots group of native audio system, researchers and activists searching for to protect and revive the North Azovian Greek languages and tradition. 

Conflict has now decimated the group. 

For 2 weeks, Khadzhynova was trapped in Mariupol beneath fixed bombardment, with out electrical energy, water, heating or any cellphone and web connection. She cooked outdoors and boiled water from a close-by stream on a bonfire. 

Daily, she watched the smoke rising as missiles struck the opposite aspect of the town, the place her brother and two nieces stay. She had no means of getting in contact with them. Her buddies and different Roumean and Urum activists had been additionally inconceivable to succeed in, both in Mariupol or in surrounding villages that had been bombed and fell beneath Russian management.

“The more severe factor was this not figuring out,” she stated. “We didn’t know what was occurring on this planet, or in Ukraine, and even in Mariupol. We had no concept. It was too terrifying to even go away the home as a result of we might find yourself beneath shelling.”

When Khadzhynova and her mom fled, her constructing was one of many few left undamaged — though she has since heard it too was shelled. As much as 90 p.c of the town’s buildings have been broken, in response to Mariupol’s mayor, and 1000’s of civilians could have died, the U.N. human rights physique said

Now in Cyprus together with her mom, Khadzhynova nonetheless has no information about whether or not her family members, or many different activists, are alive or lifeless. 

The Greek consul in Mariupol, Manolis Androulakis, left two days after Khadzhynova. Many members of the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine stay in Mariupol and can’t be reached. 

The federation’s head, Aleksandra Protsenko, did safely arrive in Greece in late March. However she told a Greek newspaper that the Greek heart in Mariupol had been destroyed.

The Greco-Russian saga

The assaults on Mariupol initially spurred a powerful response from Greece. 

The Greek prime minister strongly condemned Russia’s invasion and pledged navy assist for Ukraine. Greece additionally pledged to work with France and Turkey on establishing a humanitarian hall to evacuate Mariupol, even providing to have its overseas minister personally lead the initiative. The nation additionally pledged to lean on the Worldwide Felony Courtroom to analyze doable struggle crimes in Mariupol. 

It was an abrupt about-face for a rustic that has lengthy shared spiritual, financial and cultural ties with Russia relationship again to the early nineteenth century Greek Conflict of Independence. 

Nonetheless, the shared affinity lingers throughout each Greek and Ukrainian societies. 

Greek and Russian media have repeated claims that ethnic Greeks in Ukraine, like Russian audio system, had been discriminated in opposition to. And inside Ukraine, a lot of the Greek neighborhood held historically pro-Russian views earlier than the present invasion. Extra nationalist Ukrainians eyed the group with suspicion, notably after 2014, when Crimea and elements of the Donetsk area, with their giant Greek communities, successfully got here beneath Russian management.

“I all the time defended Greeks, even when they had been pro-Russian, as a result of individuals wish to tar everybody with the identical brush,” stated Khadzhynova. “I used to be by no means discriminated in opposition to or repressed in Ukraine for being Greek. However there’s a stereotype in Ukraine that every one Greeks are separatists.”   

The hassle to protect the Roumean and Urum languages tried to fight these perceptions. 

Oleksandr Rybalko, a linguist initially from Donetsk, began working with Greek Ukrainian colleagues in 2005 to analysis and promote these languages. They produced discs that includes music and spoken phrase passages. They made phrasebooks and youngsters’s alphabets with verses for every letter written by native audio system from villages round Mariupol. 

“I needed to point out by instance that Ukrainians care about these languages, and that they’re a part of our nationwide Ukrainian cultural panorama,” stated Rybalko, who now lives in Kyiv.

The initiatives had been a volunteer effort, with minimal help from the Ukrainian state. Rybalko was additionally working to advertise cultural tourism within the Ukrainian Sea of Azov area and was planning a collection of festivals for this spring and summer season that includes the North Azovian Greek and different minority cultures.

Like a lot else in Ukraine, these plans have now gone up in smoke. Museums housing Greek ethnological collections in Mariupol and Sartana have possible been destroyed, as has the Greek division at Mariupol State College. Rybalko’s native collaborators and companions have disappeared.

“We’re all so frightened as a result of we simply don’t know what has occurred to individuals,” stated Rybalko. “Sartana was bombed early on, and the scenario in Mariupol is simply insufferable now.”


From Cyprus, Khadzhynova has written to former Greek consuls in Mariupol, asking to be included in Greece’s proposed humanitarian mission so she will return to search for her nieces.

To this point, nevertheless, the Greek response has left her, and different Ukrainian Greeks, upset. The federal government’s forceful early response has left many Greeks grumbling that it went too far. And a 3rd of Greek lawmakers didn’t present as much as hear Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plead with them to assist rescue Mariupol residents — a speech that sparked its personal controversy when Zelenskyy performed a video of a Greek-Ukrainian member of the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian military unit now preventing in Mariupol, which has been linked previously to right-wing extremism. 

Some Greek media retailers have even been laundering Russian propaganda.  

In an open letter written from Mariupol earlier than she left, Protsenko, who heads the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine, appealed to Greeks all over the world to not let Russian propaganda win out. 

She implored individuals to talk “the reality as it’s,” that there’s a “genocide of the Ukrainian individuals, the genocide of its Greeks Of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Let’s say issues by title.”

“That is,” she added, “overt and apparent terrorism.”

Nevertheless, a number of Greek retailers have given a platform to Russian media clips portraying the precise reverse narrative. Some have run tales uncritically quoting official Russian Twitter accounts. Others used movie clips from Russian media purporting to point out Greeks from Khadzhynova’s dwelling village of Sartana, now beneath Russian management, saying that Ukrainian forces dedicated atrocities in Mariupol, that Greeks suffered discrimination in Ukraine and that the invading Russians handled them nicely.

Such materials is inflicting a deep break up throughout the surviving Greek neighborhood.  

“What can I say now about Sartana Greeks?” Khadzhynova stated. “I can’t reject my heritage, however I don’t wish to be recognized with them.”  

Khadzhynova has been monitoring such tales in Greek media, in addition to the interviews with Greek Ukrainians now in Greece who criticize Ukraine. And her posts about them on social media are getting a flood of feedback from unknown accounts boosting Russia’s false model of the struggle.

Rybalko is witnessing the identical factor on the social media channels he runs about North Azovian Greek tradition, as soon as a distinct segment curiosity group.

“Individuals with very unusual names are commenting,” stated Rybalko, “saying it’s all Kyiv’s fault.”

Nektaria Stamouli contributed reporting. 


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