ATHENS — Greece has offered to rebuild a bombed maternity clinic in Ukraine’s war-torn Mariupol. The Russian attack that killed a pregnant woman and her child, leaving dozens more injured, has since then triggered global outrage.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the initiative after talks with his counterparts from Italy, Spain and Portugal — three nations that lace the southern rim of the European Union, along with Greece — all countries struggling to cope with the dire repercussions of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.
We have to consider strengthening the European Union and the fallouts of an energy crisis that we now face, Mitsotakis said on Friday. As members of NATO, he added, we also must consider increasing defense budgets.
Yet, as the Greek prime minister expressed what he called his abhorrence at the Russian invasion, he stressed the need to waste no time in helping rebuild war-torn Ukraine, especially Mariupol, home to at least 100,000 ethnic Greeks, among the biggest pockets of Greek heritage beyond Greece.
This is not just a city with a strong Greek presence, Mitsotakis said, but a city that has become an emblem of resistance against Russian aggression. And while our decision to rebuild the maternity clinic may be a small gesture, it is an important task to rebuild Ukraine once this war ends, hopefully soon, he added.
Thousands of ethnic Greeks have existed in Mariupol since the 18th century. By some accounts, going back to the sixth century B.C., a long line of history that came under threat last month when a convoy of dozens of cars evacuating scores of Greeks came under fire, killing 10 Greeks.
The Kremlin denied any involvement, blaming Ukrainian fighters instead.
But the deadly incident has soured traditional ties of friendship between Athens and Moscow. It also shifted public sentiment in Athens with most taking the side of Ukraine and against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who Greeks have revered in the past.
Athens has donated some 40 tons of Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to assist Ukrainian fighters. It has also taken in thousands of Ukrainian refugees of Greek descent, inviting them to apply for more than 50,000 jobs in the tourism and agriculture sectors.
However, this active support for Ukraine has Greece bracing for some more financial pain, this time targeting its biggest money-making industry: tourism.
A hugely popular summer destination for Russians, the Kremlin is now advising against travel to Greece. As many as 500,000 Russian tourists were expected this year. And while the number may mark a tiny slice of the 34 million visitors who visited the country in its record year in 2019, Greece has been struggling through the pandemic to regain those figures.
It is a loss, officials say, Greece can afford even if it comes at the precious price of saving its heritage.