Dendias announces intentions to join humanitarian mission to Mariupol, urges Ukraine and Russia to not hinder efforts

Refugees gather in a street as they leave the besieged port city of Mariupol [Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias announced on Tuesday his intentions to accompany a humanitarian mission to Mariupol.

The announcement was made after his meeting with the Greek Consul General in Mariupol, Manolis Androulakis, who returned to Greece on Sunday.

"I am requesting today in an official note sent to the Ukrainian side that it facilitate and another note to the Russian side not to hinder the sending of humanitarian aid to Mariupol," Dendias said.

"I intend to accompany this mission in person, in coordination with the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Mauer, with whom we are already in contact," the Greek Foreign Minister added.

"Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine continues unabated. The priority of the Greek government is the protection of our expatriates, but also of the civilian population," he said.

Therefore, he also announced that a coordination and reception group will be set up in Bucharest, headed by Fragiskos Kostelenos with the participation of the Ambassador to Bucharest, Sofia Grammata, Odessa's Consul General Dimitris Dochtsis and Manolis Androulakis, who will depart soon.

He also stressed the need to protect the civilian population in his speech at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday and in his personal meeting with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, whom he asked to make public statements about Mariupol.

"Greece will continue to be present in the region," the Greek Foreign Minister said, adding: "In an area where the Greek element has been established for centuries."

The Foreign Minister stressed that "the first step, when things return to normal, will be the reconstruction of the maternity hospital of Mariupol. And beyond that, our coordination with the EU to do what we can to return it to its previous state and to facilitate our expatriates to return to normalcy after the tragedy."

READ MORE: Who is the Pontian Greek fighting in Mariupol against the Azov Battalion? 

Mariupol and its surrounding villages, including Sartana, is home to an ethnic Greek community numbering up to 120,000 individuals.

For three weeks, the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has been under siege by Russian forces. Between 100,000 and 200,000 people remain trapped in the city, which continues to come under relentless bombardment.

Local authorities say 80% of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed, some of it beyond repair. The city has been without water, electricity and heating, and it is impossible to count the number of deaths.

This week Ukraine rejected Russia’s ultimatum to surrender the port city.

“Mariupol has a practical and symbolic significance for Russia,” Andrii Ianitskyi, the head of the centre for excellence in economic journalism at Kyiv School of Economics, told the Guardian.

“It is a large port city and a base for Ukrainian armed forces. So if Russians want to have a land corridor [from the Donbas] to Crimea, they need to control the city.”

Mariupol is a metallurgical centre for iron and steelworks, heavy machinery manufacturing, and ship repairs. Ukraine’s largest steel plants owned by the country’s leading metallurgical group, Metinvest, are located in Mariupol. One of them, Azovstal, was badly damaged by Russian shelling this week.

Ianitskyi said the Russian army had been targeting not only civilian infrastructure but also the economic infrastructure, with the aim of incurring as much damage as possible.

Mariupol is also home to the largest trading port in the Azov Sea from which Ukraine exports grain, iron and steel, and heavy machinery.

In 2021, the main destinations for Ukrainian exports from Mariupol port were European and Middle Eastern countries such as Italy, Lebanon, and Turkey.

The port had suffered after the start of the Donbas war, having lost transit cargo traffic from former markets, including Russia.

After the annexation of Crimea, Russia built a bridge connecting the peninsula to its mainland and unilaterally imposed restrictions for ships passing the Kerch Strait.

READ MORE: Greek FM blasts Russia’s use of Chechen fighters in Greek-founded city of Mariupol.