According to the most recent Ukrainian census there are 91,548 ethnic Greeks in Ukraine, that is 0.2% of the whole population. The vast majority of these (77,000) have always lived, and still do, in the Donetsk Oblast.
The purpose of the Greek parliamentarian visit, which came about at the invitation of a local non-governmental organisation, was to establish the current situation of the Greek minority in the country.
by Martin Banks
The European Parliament has been urged to investigate claims that the cultural and other rights of ethnic Greeks in Ukraine, especially the right of education in the mother tongue, are "not respected properly". MEPs will also be asked to look into allegations that few Greek schools are supported by the State and face "many obstacles" when it comes to registration of property and heritage rights. There are also reportedly "many other irregularities" which are said to "complicate the normal existence" of Greek clubs, organisations and cultural institutions.
These were the key findings of a recent two-day, fact finding visit to the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa by a group of Greek MPs and former Greek government ministers. The Greeks had been invited by the local Greek diaspora to take part in a round table discussion. The Greek representatives including former high-ranking officials, have now asked their colleagues in the European Parliament to "seriously consider" and the situation afflicting ethnic Greeks in the country.
According to the most recent Ukrainian census there are 91,548 ethnic Greeks in Ukraine, that is 0.2% of the whole population. The vast majority of these (77,000) have always lived, and still do, in the Donetsk Oblast. However, the actual percentage of those with Greek ancestry is likely to be much higher, due to widespread intermarriage between ethnic Greeks and Ukrainian citizens who are Russian Orthodox, particularly in eastern Ukraine.
The purpose of the Greek parliamentarian visit, which came about at the invitation of a local non-governmental organisation, was to establish the current situation of the Greek minority in the country. Greek MP Vasilis Chatzilambrou, one of those in the Greek delegation, said he had informed the Greek Parliament and also Greek deputies in the European Parliament about concerns regarding the state of Greek minorities in Ukraine.
He said ethnic Greeks faced "constant pressure and harassment" from local authorities. Speaking from Athens, Chatzilambrou said, "The situation in Ukraine is not developing in favour of democracy and basic human rights, especially the right of assembly." His sentiments were echoed by Konstantinos Isychos, a former Deputy Defence Minister and MP in Greece, who said that the conscription of ethnic Greeks to the Ukrainian armed forces was "another issue of concern."
Another former Greek MP, Nadia Valavani, complained of being "unable to move freely in Donbass, meet with people, and participate in open and free discussions". Valavani said the situation afflicting ethnic Greeks in Ukraine was "public knowledge" in Greece and had recently featured in the local news media there. There were also claims that Ukrainian ultranationalists belonging to the extremist Right Sector movement barred the Greek delegation from exiting their hotel in Odessa.
Several dozens of Right Sector activists reportedly blocked the delegation in hotel 'Duc'. The Greek delegates were blocked in their hotel by the Right Sector members, who staged a picket outside the building. Ultranationalists wearing paramilitary uniform alongside with masks and balaclavas waved Ukrainian flags and held banners and placards that read "Foreigners-Russophiles have no place in Ukraine!" and "Aggressor, hands off Bessarabia!"
A member of the Greek delegation, journalist Aris Chatzistefanou, described the situation around the hotel to EBR. "The delegation arrived [in Odessa] only to communicate with the [local] Greek minority and to ask about the problems that they face including whether [the activities of] the neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups have anything to do with their everyday life," said Chatzistefanou adding that they saw people wearing military uniforms near their hotel, most of which "were the members of the Right Sector."
The Greek journalist emphasized that ultranationalists deprived the delegation of any opportunity "to communicate with the members of the Greek minority here in Odessa." "If you have about 30 people in military uniforms, you get the message: you understand that, if you continue [to do] what you want to do, they might get violent," he commented on his impression about the Right Sector activists' intentions adding that "it has nothing to do with democracy or… freedom of expression."
According to Greek media, members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine are looking into what happened. "The members of the Ukrainian extremist group were constantly following the delegation and demanding to explain, for what purpose [the Greeks] came to Odessa," Valavani told the Greek news agency. "Right-wing extremists told us that we were the enemies of Ukraine."