Greeks in Ukraine (Ukrainian: греки; hreky). Greeks first appeared in Ukraine about 1000 BC to trade with the peoples living on the Black Sea littoral. The first Greek (Ionian) colony was established at the end of the 7th century BC on Berezan Island. Most others (see Ancient states on the northern Black Sea coast) arose in the 6th century BC: Olbia on the Boh River estuary and Tyras on the Dnister River estuary; Theodosia (now Teodosiia), Panticapaeum, Myrmecium, and Nymphaeum in the Crimea; and Phanagoria, Cepi, and Hermonassa in the Taman Peninsula. Chersonese Taurica, a Doric colony, arose in the Crimea in the 5th century BC. The easternmost colony, Tanais, was founded in the 3rd century BC at the mouth of the Don River. Ceramic ware, weapons, jewelry, ornaments, oil, and wine were traded for local grain, slaves, fish, hides, and pelts, which were exported to the Greek city-states on the Aegean coast. With time the larger colonies themselves became Greco-barbarian city-states. In the 5th century BC several Greek poleis united with the indigenous peoples to create the Bosporan Kingdom. From the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD the Greek city-states in southern Ukraine were part of the Roman Empire. Apart from Chersonese Taurica and Panticapaeum, they were destroyed by the Huns in the 4th century.
From the 9th century on, the principalities of Kyivan Rus’ had close ties with the Byzantine Empire, particularly after the adoption of Christianity from Byzantium in 988 by Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv (see Christianization of Ukraine). With a few exceptions the hierarchy of the Orthodox church in medieval Ukraine consisted of Greeks. Even after the fall of the empire in 1453, Ukrainian-Greek church and economic relations were maintained. But they were not of any great consequence until the end of the 16th and most of the 17th century, when Greek merchants settled in Lviv, Kamianets-Podilskyi, and other cities and participated in the activities of the Orthodox brotherhoods. As the Polish Catholic-Ukrainian Orthodox struggle intensified, Orthodox Ukrainians strengthened their ties with the patriarchs of Constantinople, who had jurisdiction over Kyiv metropoly until 1686. In the cultural sphere, the brotherhood schools originally had Greek-Church Slavonic curriculums. Greek scholars in Ukraine, such as Arsenii of Elasson and Cyril Lucaris, and Ukrainian scholars who had direct contact with Greece, such as Kypriian of Ostroh, Friar Joseph from Mount Athos, and Hegumen Isaakii Boryskovych, or who were versed in the Greek language and literature, such as Lavrentii Zyzanii and Stepan Zyzanii, Kyrylo Stavrovetsky-Tranquillon, Meletii Smotrytsky, and Zakhariia Kopystensky, all played key roles in the Ukrainian cultural and religious revival, particularly in Ostroh (in the Ostroh Academy circle) and Lviv. The earliest textbooks were modeled on Greek examples. Each year dozens of monks came from Mount Athos to collect alms in Ukraine.
Greek clerics often acted as advisers in Ukrainian church matters; Prince Kostiantyn Vasyl Ostrozky, for example, was advised by Dionysius Paleologos and Moskhopulos, who lived in Ostroh. Some Greek clergymen—for example, Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople, the protosyncellus Nicephorus, Cyril Lucaris, and Meletios Syrigos—came to Ukraine on special missions and took part in church events. Some of them were involved in political affairs; for example, as patriarch, Lucaris conducted negotiations with the Cossacks in the 1620s. There were Greeks in the upper echelons of the Hetman state: Daniel Oliveberg de Graecani Atheniensis served as Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s envoy; and Astamatos (Ostamatenko) served as the envoy of hetmans Yurii Khmelnytsky and Petro Doroshenko to Constantinople. A number of Ukrainian families of the Cossack starshyna or noble estate were of Greek descent: Tomara, Kapnist, Ternaviot, Levytsky, Yanzhul, Konstantynovych, Khrystoforovych, Manuilovych, Ursal, Motonis, Komburlei, Mazapeta, and Mazaraki.
Greek merchants and entrepreneurs prospered in Ukraine. In 1657 Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky granted trading privileges to a group of Greek merchants who settled in Nizhyn. The annual fairs organized by it turned Nizhyn into an emporium that retained its importance until the founding of Odesa (1794) and other Black Sea ports in the late 18th century. A sizable community of Greek traders and artisans remained in Nizhyn county until the early 19th century. Greeks also lived in Pereiaslav and Kyiv. In 1748 the Greek colony in Kyiv established Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Podil district.
In the 18th century political conditions in the Russian Empire did not serve to promote Ukrainian-Greek economic relations. Religious and cultural ties continued to be maintained, however, particularly through the Kyivan Mohyla Academy and other colleges (later seminaries), which attracted Greek students well into the 19th century. Nicephorous Theotokis, who hailed from Corfu, founded the Poltava Seminary and was the archbishop of Kherson in 1779–86.
Towards the end of the 18th century the number of Greeks in Ukraine rose sharply. After protracted Russo-Turkish wars, Russia finally gained control of the steppes in southern Ukraine and began colonizing them. Foreign settlers were offered various concessions and assistance, including exemptions from taxation and military service, unrestricted fishing rights, and material support. After the 1768–74 Russo-Turkish War ended, the Russian authorities helped several thousand Greeks who had sympathized with or fought on the Russian side during the war to emigrate from Asia Minor to the Crimea, Tahanrih, and Kherson. In 1774–83, 18,400 Greeks were forcibly resettled from the Crimea to Azov gubernia on the coast of the Sea of Azov and along the Solona River and Kalmiius River. During the first two winters there, 4,655 died from the cold, lack of food and shelter, and disease. Those who survived built the city of Mariupol and populated 22 other settlements. In 1897, 69,400 Greeks lived in Katerynoslav gubernia, most of them in the Mariupol region. Many of them retained their distinctive Greek-Tatar dialects and folkways well into the 20th century, even though in the 1870s they lost the right to have their own schools and self-government that they had been granted in 1779. Twelve villages were settled by the so-called Greek Hellenes, who spoke a modern Greek dialect; 10 were settled by the so-called Greek Tatars, who spoke a language resembling Tatar.
Other Greeks settled in the steppe interior, particularly near the Dnipro Rapids, and were among the original inhabitants of Katerynoslav, Novomoskovsk, and other towns. In the 1790s many emigrants from the Aegean islands settled in towns along the Black Sea littoral—Odesa, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and others. After 1812 the number of emigrants declined.
Some Greeks were organized at first into military settlements and battalions (near Odesa and Balaklava in the Crimea), but the majority turned to farming, artisanry, or trade. After the Russo-Turkish wars ended, many Phanariote boyars and officials from Moldavia and Wallachia were endowed with pensions and lands by the Russian government. The Cantacuzino family, for example, received 19,000 desiatins of land near Zolotonosha, over 13,000 near Voznesensk, and up to 400 in the Romny region; Prince C. Ypsilantis received 14,000 desiatins in the Chernihiv region; and the engineer Karadzhi was granted an estate near Bohodukhiv.
Greeks played a significant role in Ukraine’s commerce. At the beginning of the 19th century trade in Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Yelysavethrad, and Tahanrih was controlled by Greeks, who also played a particularly important role in the development of Odesa as an international trade center. In 1814 the revolutionary secret society Philikí Etaireía, which in the 1820s was headed by A. and D. Ypsilantis, was established by Greek merchants in Odesa, and the city became an important center of the Greek national independence movement. Odesa’s relatively small Greek community (5,070 in 1897) maintained its importance in the city’s commerce, and that of Southern Ukraine as a whole, until the Revolution of 1917.
According to the 1926 Soviet census, there were 105,000 Greeks in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, of which 64,200 lived in the Mariupol region and 3,500 in the Odesa region. An additional 22,000 Greeks lived in the Kuban, 24,000 in the Crimea, and 10,000 in eastern Subcaucasia. In 1933, 156,000 Greeks lived on Ukraine’s compact ethnographic territory, and 167,000 in all the territories inhabited wholly or in part by Ukrainians. In the USSR as a whole there were 214,000 Greeks according to the 1926 census, and 286,000 according to the 1939 census.
In 1926, 4,000 (11,500 in 1816) of the Greek inhabitants in the region between Mariupol and Staline lived in Mariupol and constituted 10 percent of the city’s population (in 1897 they constituted 30 percent); 93,000 lived in about 29 large villages, 15 of them purely Greek. Among the largest were Yalta, Manhush, Urzuf, and Staryi Krym near the Azov coast; Sartana, Hnativka (now Starohnativka), Karan (now Hranitne), Chermalyk (now Zamozhne), Styla, and Starobesheve along the Kalmiius River; and Velykyi Yanysol (now Velyka Novosilka), Komar, Bohatyr, Staryi Kermenchyk (now Staromlynivka), and Nova Karakuba (now Krasna Poliana) in the northwest along the Mokri Yaly River. Together the Greeks accounted for 10 percent of the population in the region.
In the Crimea, about 60 percent of the Greeks lived in the cities and suburbs of Yalta, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Kerch, and Teodosiia. In the Odesa region, besides the old Greek colony (1,400) in Odesa, there was a colony (1,400) in the village of Sverdlove. There were also small Greek communities in Staline (700), Kharkiv (500), and Kyiv (300). In other cities, such as Nizhyn, Mykolaiv, and Dnipropetrovsk, which at one time had Greek inhabitants, the Greeks had merged with the local population.
In the Kuban and eastern littoral of the Black Sea, Greeks lived in and around the coastal cities of Novorosiisk, Anapa, Helendzhyk, Tuapse, and Sochi, as well as in the interior Abynsk and Krymsk raions and the city of Krasnodar. Thirty-one percent of them were urban dwellers (10.3 percent in the Ukrainian SSR).
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Greeks had three national raions and 30 national rural soviets in the Ukrainian SSR. But they were not adequately provided with education in their mother tongue, and 76 percent of all Greek children attended Russian schools (only 2 percent attended Ukrainian schools). Hence, in spite of the high literacy rate among the Greeks (64 percent in 1926), only 1 percent of them could write in Greek. During the period of Ukrainization in the 1920s, a Greek-language pedagogical tekhnikum and agricultural school existed in Mariupol and Greek newspapers were published. During the Stalinist terror the schools were closed and all nationally conscious Greek activists were repressed. The Greek poet Heorhii Kostoprav died in a labor camp. In the late 1920s the All-Ukrainian Learned Association of Oriental Studies (Andrii Kovalivsky and others) conducted research on the Greek colonies in the Mariupol region.
According to the 1959 census there were 104,400 Greeks in the Ukrainian SSR, 93,000 of them in Donetsk oblast. Only 8 percent (81 percent in 1926) gave Greek as their mother tongue, while 89 percent (17 percent in 1926) gave Russian, and 3 percent gave Ukrainian. These language-use data were basically repeated in the 1979 census: of the 104,100 Greeks in Ukraine, only 9 percent gave Greek as their mother tongue. The cataclysmic events in Soviet history (famine, terror, the Second World War), assimilation, and Russification have contributed to the population decline and changing culture of Greeks in Ukraine.
In 1969 a small selection of Heorhii Kostoprav’s poetry was published in Kyiv in Ukrainian translation. A few years later a parallel Greek-Ukrainian edition of poetry by Greeks from Donetsk oblast was published.
Kharlampovych, K. ‘Narysy z istoriï hrets'koï koloniï v Nizheni XVII–XVIII st.),’ ZIFV, 24 (1929)
Teokharidi, T. ‘Hrets'ka viis'kova kolonizatsiia na pivdni Ukraïny naprykintsi XVIII ta pochatku XIX stolittia,’ Visnyk Odes'koï komisiï kraieznavstva pry VUAN, 4–5 (1930)
Naulko, V. Razvitie mezhetnicheskikh sviazei na Ukraine (istoriko-etnograficheskii ocherk) (Kyiv 1975)
Herlihy, P. ‘Greek Merchants in Odessa in the Nineteenth Century,’ HUS, 3/4 (1979–80)
Zapantis, A. Greek-Soviet Relations, 1917–1941 (Boulder 1982)
Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Roman Senkus, Arkadii Zhukovsky
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1989)]