The Greeks of Ukraine Need Our Help

A few years ago, when I was Deputy Foreign Minister with Responsibility for Hellenes Abroad, I visited the historic Greek city of Odessa in Ukraine. It was my first official visit outside Greece. I met a lively community with a strong national pulse. Such was the reception they reserved for me, which reminded me of the way in which our Community in New York once received officials from Greece.

Most of the Hellenes I met were ordinary people, of the second, or third generation. However, they insisted on fighting to preserve their national identity, their religion, their language, their music, their culture. Among other things, I was particularly impressed by the president of the Federation of Greek Associations in Ukraine, Alexandra Protsenko, a dynamic, conscientious Greek woman who had dedicated many years to the service of the Community.

She is also a Diaspora Hellene who for years struggled to get a Greek passport. Despite the good intentions of the Greek authorities, they could not give it to her, because she did not have the marriage certificate of her parents. She complained: “But where can I find it, since, when my parents got married, Ukraine was a member of the Soviet Union and these records do not exist?” That was one of the laws that I tried to change…

I was told that apart from Odessa, a large part of Hellenism in Ukraine is to be found in Mariupol, where there are villages with Greek names and Greek inhabitants. So the famous Alexandra, as everyone calls her, had made such an impression on me that I always remember her as an example, and I am grateful for her contributions to Hellenism.

Thus, when I read her shocking appeal to us all to help the Hellenes of Ukraine, a plea filled with agony and pain, I was not surprised. That’s how I remember her. She is “fighting a Thermopylae” for the survival of the Greek element in her country: “Today Ukraine and the Greeks of Ukraine,” writes ‘Bouboulina’ Alexandra, “are going through very difficult times.”

And since she characterizes what the Russians are doing as “genocide against the Ukrainian people and the Greeks” she says, “Mariupol is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe. The city is surrounded by Russian troops, without water, electricity, heating or communications. Efforts to evacuate civilians, as well as provide humanitarian aid, were thwarted by the Russian side. We ask and appeal to the entire world community, to all the Greeks of the world, to act. We ask for your help in organizing a ‘green corridor’ for the evacuation of Greeks from settlements surrounded by the enemy and the provision of humanitarian aid.”

I do not know how feasible the things that Alexandra is asking for, or whether they are even possible. But what I believe is that Greece is already making every effort to help our compatriots and is offering them every possible assistance. Let us do what Israel has done dozens of times in similar cases. Let us even consider the possibility of sending commandos to save their compatriots.

Apart from official Greece, however, Hellenes abroad can also help by internationalizing the issue, thus putting pressure on Putin to stop bombing the areas and villages where Greeks live. This is not just an ethical duty, to respond to those in need if we can, but it is also our sacred national obligation.


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