DIASPORA

‘We have been hearing the bombs go off for seven years’

Ukrainian citizens of Greek heritage talk to Kathimerini and discuss their worries about the future

‘We have been hearing the bombs go off for seven years’

“Boom.” This is how Viktoria Sapovalova, one of many Ukrainians with Greek heritage, describes the sound made by bombs when they go off. Her home, she tells Kathimerini in a phone interview, is located 60 kilometers from where the conflict between Ukraine and Russia took place in 2014, familiarizing her with the sound of explosions. “We have been hearing ‘boom’ for seven years and we cannot abandon our homes. It is seven years now that no one has asked how we are and what we are doing,” she states, now that everything suggests that a Russian invasion is more than likely.

“When the war starts, everyone talks about it for several months and then forgets about it – it is not over, you just do not talk about it,” remarks the 34-year-old, founder of the Collage Society of Greece. She is talking to Kathimerini from Spain, where she first went for work before deciding to stay due to the volatile situation in the Ukraine. “I do not want to put my daughter in any danger,” she says referring to 7-year-old Sevasti, adding that “the situation is really heating up.” Her mother, who refuses to leave Ukraine, has told her that their village is now full of tanks and soldiers. “If it becomes necessary, I will leave,” she stresses. “I am waiting for my Greek passport,” she says, with some worry as the necessary paperwork required to gain her much-desired Greek citizenship is still at the Embassy of Greece in Kiev. “I hope Greece will take back its Greeks.”

She is not the only member of the Greek minority in Ukraine hoping for Greek support. “If war breaks out, I would like Greece to at least help people with Greek heritage in any way possible. They could for example, if Greek Ukrainians decide to evacuate to Greece, help them settle down, initially at least,” says Viktoria Fedorova, a resident of Mariupol, who states that if it comes to war, she will leave Ukraine. Mariupol, a city with a population of approximately half a million located near the southeastern border, is an area where most of the approximately 100,000 members of the Greek-Ukrainian minority live, and will be one of the most vulnerable regions should the invasion materialize. “If it comes to war,” Fedorova stresses, “all the inhabitants of Mariupol will be at risk of losing their life, their job, their livelihood, they will have to move or hide. As of 2014 there are some bunkers, but surely not enough for everyone.”

‘A Great tragedy’

“For the Greeks of Ukraine, and the wider Ukrainian population, a Russian invasion would be a great tragedy,” says Nina Pascal, head of the Greek association Kiev Unity, in an interview with Kathimerini. She was forced to leave her old life and home in the Donetsk region in 2014, moving with her family to Kiev. “The inhabitants of Mariupol are well aware of what happened in Donetsk following the Russian invasion in 2014 – it was a large, prosperous city, and now it is only a shadow of its former self,” says Pascal. She points out that the responses displayed by the people of Ukraine vary – some refuse to believe that Russia would invade, while others are looking for ways to protect themselves and their families. “They are stockpiling food and medicine, planning for different eventualities and courses of action,” Pascal remarks. One of these eventualities is also the stance of Greece. “We expect Greece to support Ukraine in defending and maintaining its independence and territorial integrity, in action and not just in words,” she states.

For 46-year-old Roman Karpalov, a citizen of Greek heritage in Mariupol, the greatest threat is not Russia but racism. He points out that since 2014 the situation on the ground for Ukraine’s minority has deteriorated significantly, something which Pascal disagrees with. “A year ago,” says Karpalov, “they wrote on the walls of the Greek consulate ‘Greeks leave,’ and a month ago some people who came here from north Ukraine told me, ‘You should be speaking Ukrainian,’” when they overheard him speaking Greek. He wants to become a Greek citizen, but he says the process is very slow. “Every time I go, they tell me, ‘Wait a bit more,’ and every week I go and hear the same thing. Some have been waiting for their papers for over five years. Are we that bad?” he wonders.