Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Greece offers 'war relief' to Greek-origin Ukrainians

  • The Mariupol region, in south-east Ukraine, was again shelled on 16 August (Photo: Corneliu Cazacu)

Greece has said it would give special treatment to Greek-origin Ukrainians on the front line who want to resettle in the EU.

Its foreign ministry told EUobserver on Tuesday (25 August) the 90,000 or so Greek-origin people who live in the Mariupol region in Ukraine would be treated as “returnees”, not as ordinary refugees or asylum seekers.

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“Greek Ukranians (not possessing Greek citizenship) who would choose to resettle to Greece would get a special status - as was the case with people of Greek origin emigrating to Greece after the split-up of the former Soviet Union”, Anastasia Christofilopoulou, a Greek spokeswoman, said.

“At that time, there were special provisions facilitating citizenship-acquisition and granting of professional/social rights. In a similar case, similar measures would probably apply”.

Targeted village

Sartana, a majority-Greek village near Mariupol, was, on 16 August, shelled by pro-Russia forces for 25 minutes, killing three people and damaging 170 homes.

It’s the fifth time it’s been targeted.

A Russian Grad rocket attack in October killed seven people. A Grad attack on the city of Mariupol, where most diaspora Greeks live, in January, killed 30 people.

Christofilopoulou said even if violence escalates, the “scenario of the whole community resettling in Greece is highly improbable”.

But if there is a large exodus, it would put further strain on a country already struggling with a financial crisis and with mass-scale migration from the Middle East.

Christofilopoulou said the official number of Greek-origin people in Mariupol is 91,000, but the Federation of Greek Communities of Mariupol, an NGO, estimates the real number is “much higher”.

Meanwhile, Greece, on Monday, began flying 191 Greek-origin children and elderly people from Kiev to Rhodes, a Greek island.

They first drove 780km from Mariupol to Kiev because the conflict has closed Mariupol’s airport.

They're to stay in Rhodes until 12 September to get “relief from the war”, the foreign ministry said, and to learn about Greek culture.

Nerves

But in a sign of nerves, some Ukraine-watchers claimed on social media Greece had begun a full-scale evacuation.

The Minsk ceasefire accord, signed by Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany in February, hasn't stopped fighting.

“If we get just 20 or 30 minutes of shelling a day, that’s considered a normal day”, Mustafa Nayyem, a Ukrainian MP, told EUobserver at Globsec, a security seminar in Slovakia in June.

The Sartana shelling prompted snap meetings of EU and Ukraine leaders to stop escalation.

But international monitors, the OSCE, in a report on Tuesday, said “ceasefire violations were recorded in numerous locations”.

They recorded 32 explosions and small-arms fire in the Donetsk city area and 41 explosions north-east of Donetsk.

A senior EU diplomat told this website there’s no sign pro-Russia forces are planning to take Mariupol.

But the city is at a strategic point, which separates Russia-occupied east Ukraine from Russia-annexed Crimea, with the diplomat adding that Moscow "is keeping all options on the table”.

Some Greek communities in Ukraine date to Byzantine times. But the majority settled in the 18th century.

Christofilopoulou noted they can’t vote in Greece. But she said they have some special rights, for instance, on access to Greek universities.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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