Why I’m Staying in Kyiv Despite the Russian Bombs

My Greek family has been persecuted by Russia for generations

Nastya Popandopulos
The Ukrainian View
5 min readMar 23, 2022


Isaac, his wife Susanna, and four of their kids (left photo). Family Archive
Isaac Popandopulo, his wife Susanna, and four of their kids. All photos courtesy of family archive.

His name was Isaac Popandopulo. He was one of the first Greeks to bring the culture and technology of growing and processing tobacco to the Russian Kuban.

However, he did not travel to this foreign land of his own free will. He was running away. Isaac was a Christian — our surname means “the baby of the priest” — and one of those Pontic Greeks subjected to religious oppression by the Turks in the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the First World War, Isaac managed to preserve his family’s estates and plantations in Kuban, along with the equipment for processing and storing tobacco seeds. However, after the Bolshevik-led “October Revolution” of 1917, when the Russian Empire began transforming into the Soviet Union, Isaac was deprived of everything as a result of Lenin’s “dekulakization” crusade. During this time, Lenin’s regime led a ruthless campaign to arrest, deport, and even execute millions of hard working, entrepreneurial peasants and their families. Isaac survived and continued to grow and cultivate tobacco, but as a hired worker because his farm belonged to everyone. It was now owned by the state.

Despite everything, life went on. Isaac’s children had been growing up and building their own careers and families. They lived as peacefully as they could under such circumstances for twenty years, until December 11, 1937.

It was then that the Nikolai Yezhov’s directive #50215 came into force. According to this directive, the NKVD (the interior ministry of the Soviet Union overseeing the countries prison and labor camps) were ordered to arrest all Greeks suspected of espionage, sabotage, insurgency, and anti-Soviet activities.

All of Isaac’s sons and his son-in-law Nikolai were arrested on the night of January 1, 1938. Only one son, Nicephorus, returned from the Gulag many years later.

Along with over 10,000 other Greeks, my great-grandfathers Fyodor, Ivan, and Nikolai, were executed as part of the “Great Purge.” They were shot on January 18, 1938. Ivan, who left behind his son Alexei and daughter Sofiya, was only 22 years old.

Ivan and his wife Maria (Family Archive)
Ivan and his wife Maria

When I was 22, I had just graduated college. I felt like my life was only beginning. I visited the Kyiv Zoo for the first time and jumped with joy when I won tickets to a Limp Bizkit concert. I could not know how my life would turn out at that time. I still don’t know where my great-grandparents are buried or if they were buried in a civilized way at all.

After that mass execution, Isaac’s daughter Calliope took care of Ivan’s children. But all of them were considered relatives of “enemies of the people,” so the oppression reached them as well. Apparently, I have to thank the Soviet authorities for resorting to deportation, not execution this time. In 1942, a huge part of the Greek community including my family was taken in cattle cars from the Krasnodar area and the Caucasus to the steppes of Kyrgyzstan.

The journey took an entire month. Most elderly and sick people could not withstand such conditions. Wardens unloaded corpses at every train stop. It is unknown what happened to those people’s bodies after that.

Calliope and the children reached Kyrgyzstan and struggled for life there. They had no opportunities to escape or return home, even after 1956 when the Greeks were stripped of their “special migrants” status.

In 1969, my family finally returned to the beloved Kuban. Grown-up Alexei bought land there to build a large house for his large family. Four of his children grew up in this house, including my father.

When I first heard this story as a child, it sounded so optimistic, so inspiring. Despite all the evil and injustice, things like humanity, goodness, and love for one’s land finally prevail. But I first heard this story in Luhansk, Ukraine. It was here that my loving father moved in with his wife. Like Alexei, my dad built a house for the family in this city.

My sister and I grew up there, and then we moved to Kyiv, with a desire to change the world. My dad moved to Antratsyt, a much smaller and slower town in the Luhansk province with a few theaters.

When pro-Russian separatists seized Luhanshchyna in 2014, my father was forced to leave his land again. He first returned to Russia to visit his relatives in the Kuban. Imagine his surprise when he realized that they trusted the hosts of Russian-owned TV stations more than him, a direct witness and victim of the events that forced him out of Luhanshchyna.

These same relatives, who light candles every year on January 18 in memory of the shooting and deportation of the Greek community by the Russian authorities, could not believe that Russian authorities had resorted to armed aggression in eastern Ukraine. The aggression that forced almost two million people to flee their homes in Donbas.

Eventually, my father moved to Kyiv. He first lived at my sister’s place but managed to build the third house in his life. And then rockets and bombs began to hit Kyiv. The rockets are still falling and our relatives in Kuban still trust the state-run propaganda they hear on TV more than they trust us.

My father no longer has the strength to build another house. My sister, who also has two children, and I are tired of endless resettlements and displacements. Of course, we are scared. But we stay in Kyiv to help, and finally write a new page in the history of our family. The history of our country. The history of our world.

P.S.: Special thanks to @sushchuk for helping me bring this text up.



Nastya Popandopulos
The Ukrainian View

Global Comms Manager | Curly PR Podcast Host🎙| 25% greek 100% ukrainian 🇺🇦