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How Greeks live near liberated Mariupol: “We all communicate in Russian, but we try to preserve our traditions and rituals”

Date: July 18, 2024 Time: 13:42:49


At the entrance to Mariupol, the name of the city is written twice: in Russian and in Greek. This is because the Greeks have settled in this area since the time of Catherine II. The empress resettled them from the Crimea to revive the newly annexed empty territories. Greeks were granted privileges, but strangers were not allowed here: citizens of other nationalities for some time were simply prohibited from living in Greek settlements or engaging in trade here.

The colonists were divided into Hellenes, who spoke Greek, and Urums.

The Urums (in Roman Turkish) are inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium. Just like the Urusos are Russians. The origin of the Urums is Greek, but their language is Crimean Tatar.

The Hellenes founded the towns of Yalta (Azov region), Urzuf, Sartana and Styla around Mariupol. The Urum settled in Mangush, Kermenchik and ancient Crimea.

– There are many there! They look at you with black eyes and speak Greek,” they told me in one of the Russian villages, showing me the way to the ancient Crimea.

As I drive, uncomfortable questions come to mind: I’m going to visit the village of Stary Krym, but it’s new for us. But Crimea, on the contrary, is old. Why was the town named Old if it was founded after the conquest of the Crimean peninsula?

The Greeks join us once again, even though we are their heirs: the Third Rome, the second Byzantium. It is we who usually bear Greek names: Andrey, Alexey, Alexander, Vasily, Gregory. Only the most Russian name, Ivan, comes from Judea. But the Greeks probably also brought it to us along with the Bible. And how many new megacities we have now (“big cities” in Greek): Sevastopol, Mariupol, Melitopol!

After stopping the car at a bus station in the former Crimea, I look around, but I see no sign that I have ended up in a Greek colony. Except for two Hecatoncheires (character from Greek mythology) in work boots, buying shawarma at a stall.

– And what, good woman, do the Greeks live in your town? – I ask a citizen what happens.

The citizen thinks:

– They used to be. Now there is no one. Wow, it’s at the end of the street where the dog runs, Grandpa lives. Remember the Greek. If he didn’t die.

But I don’t let the woman go and it turns out that she herself is a quarter Greek. I look closely and understand:


Despite the modest appearance of the town, it is imbued with the Greek spirit. In the local House of Culture ancient music plays and the passing traveler can taste an ayvasil cake (a traditional Greek dish). I’m in a hurry there.


The House of Culture is preparing for a concert. Children in national costumes run down the hall, proud grandmothers in scarves walk down the hall. I am in the citadel of Greek traditions, or rather Urum. Here they sing and dance in Greek, but with a Tatar flavor. Dangerous mixture.

Once every five years, the Greeks of the Azov region gather for a festival called “Mega Yorty.” “Mega” means “big” in Greek. “Yorty” means “house” in Turkish (hence, by the way, the word “yurt”). A strange combination, if you imagine: a giant felt yurt with dancing Greeks and Greek women in robes. It is even more surprising that the word “God” in Urum is “Allah”, although their church is Orthodox, and “house of God” will sound like… “yurt of Allah”.

“We have always participated in this festival,” says Masha, an employee of the cultural center. – We sew costumes and sing in Greek. They carried the Greek flag. It was beautiful.

Masha teaches modern Greek. He doesn’t look like Urum, but Greece used to provide good financial support to the community, so they tried to focus on this country. Her husband Nikolai runs the Bir Taifa dance group, which in Urum means “a family.” Folklore, search, research team.

“The Urum language dies along with the elderly,” Nikolai sighs. – My mother still spoke it. Now we all communicate in Russian. But we are trying to preserve our traditions and rituals.

– Does Russia support its community?

– Supports. But for now our team acts at the local level. We haven’t traveled through Russia yet. We are waiting to be invited. Many people travel from Donetsk, we hope that soon it will be our turn.

The House of Culture in the ancient Crimea had to be restored after the Battle of Mariupol. The arrival was to the ballroom. Now almost nothing remembers these events.

“There were holes right here.” “We restored everything,” the grandmother of the complex proudly shows.

And another remembers:

– There was a case. A neighbor was cooking at home by the stove. My husband was nearby. Then he went to the warehouse and suddenly the Grad came in. He went through the roof and got stuck in the place where my husband had been before. But he didn’t explode. He was sticking out of the ground until they pulled him out.

-Who took it out? Sappers?

– Yes, we achieved it ourselves. Then the sappers came and took him away.


The Greek Misha lives one hundred meters from the cultural center. She invites you into the house and sits you at the table. She yells at his wife to treat her to a holiday cake; of the same aivasil, there is still a piece in the refrigerator. The grandson has already found the traditional good luck coin hidden in the cake. Eh, I don’t see easy happiness, but at least I’ll eat.

– What kind of aivasil? – Misha asks again and shrugs uncertainly. – Well, the Greek god was like that – Vasil.

Misha remembers Greek traditions, but it’s difficult. The local Greeks were first Tatarized and then Russified, but they did not have time to Ukrainize.

“Azerbaijanis and Kazakhs are easily understood by the Urum,” says Misha. – Language of a group. But we rarely speak Urum anymore. Although I still remember something: when we greet, we say “elnesalykh”, which means “may your hands be healthy.” When we say goodbye we say “sudibik sagol”, that is, “be as healthy as water”.

Misha says that the Greeks have always had good relations with the Russians. After the assault on Mariupol, he traveled to Russia to visit his relatives. I drove in fear, I didn’t know how they would treat him. And everyone who found out that he was a Greek from near Mariupol shook his hand, tried to feed him and even give him money.

“The ancient Crimea was saved from the fighting,” he recalls. – A column of Ukrainian soldiers passed through the city. They shot and destroyed something nearby. My godfather, an Afghanistan veteran, was killed when a random projectile entered his house.

Or maybe not random. Previously, the people were proud of Soviet awards. Misha himself wore his jacket with medals for Afghanistan on vacation (he served in Kabul). Every year he came with military awards to the Victory Parade on May 9. And in 2017 the parade was banned and its participants were threatened.

– Screw them! – Misha is indignant. – Then all the existing Ukrainian services came to me! And now too: with whom we used to drink and sing together, we are now gone. They threaten.

But Misha is not afraid. And he has no regrets about those who left. He believes that the Greeks and the Russians are one family. And as I said goodbye, he wished him “to be healthy as water.”


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Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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