On September 24 special events were organized to commemorate the tragic events that took place in Sicily 110 years ago.
Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Sicily Giovanni Ricevuto thanked the delegation of the Foundation of Saint Andrew the First-Called for their visit to Messina. He was addressing to Mayor and Prefect of Messina, and to the citizens gathered at the Square of the Russian Sailors and thanked everybody for participation in the ceremony to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the terrifying earthquake and support from the Russian sailors. He reminded that it was sailors from “Slava”, “Tsesarevich”, “Admiral Makarov” and “Koreyets” who were the first to rescue the victims.
The help was provided amid very hard conditions. Earthquake shocks continued, the town was on fire; and the citizens called the sailors their angels from the see for a reason. Witnesses described their heroic acts. The sailors were rescuing people from under demolished buildings while they were putting their own lives at risk; but no matter what they continued to save people. Hundreds of human lives were saved thanks to the timely help. The authorities thanked the Russian sailors heartily; plenty of articles were published about their heroic act. And today citizens of Messina are grateful to Russia as the entire town had suffered from the earthquake.
– It is a special day for us. We would like to express sincere gratitude and to hug the Russian sailors for what had been done 110 years ago. And we would like to thank you for the monument that the Foundation of Saint Andrew the First-Called has erected. Your presence here makes our relations better and makes our town more interesting. The visit is absolutely well-timed. It is a good sign. We support the activity of Mayor Cateno de Luca. His work is focused on the idea to eliminate all the remaining signs of the tragedy that are still the case today 110 years later. I am talking about the barracks of that period, which currently are finally being demolished – were the final words of Giovanni Ricevuto.
Vladimir Yakunin, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation of Saint Andrew the First-Called, addressed to representatives of the Russian and Italian Navy: “The frigate’s captain and team are heirs to the sailors who had come to rescue the citizens of Messina. Today they also came on a friendly and peaceful visit. There are tragedies that separate nations for centuries. The Messina tragedy became the foundation for uniting Russian and Italian people”.
Vladimir Yakunin told that the monument erected in Sicily was the monument based on drafts of an Italian architect. “It is a Sicilian emotion presented in the form of sculpture. But we share this emotion completely along with the memory of the tragedy” – he said. He also reminded that several years later after the tragedy Sicilian people refused to get paid for accommodation and food when it was offered by Russian travelers.
Vladimir Yakunin thanked Giovanni Ricevuto for support provided to erect the monument. “We are grateful that since 2013 this square is called the Square of Russian Sailors. We do our best for the historical events to be preserved and to be the guiding star for our people. We were awarded a replica of the medal that had been awarded to the Russian Fleet a century ago. I would like to invite Italian representatives to visit Saint-Petersburg where a special display to honor the medal is created in the Navy Museum. I don’t speak Italian. But I believe speaking with the hearts can help here. As a person who was awarded with the Most Excellent Order of the Italian Republic I feel that I am a little Italian and Sicilian. I would like to wish all of you peace and well-being, and to continue our collaboration” – were the final words of Vladimir Yakunin.
Mayor of Messina Cateno de Luca said that the monument represented the dignity of Russian sailors.
“The operation the Russian sailors carried out had not been authorized from supervisors. It was the gesture of their hearts. Many of us should listen to our own heart beat instead of following a certain strategy. We could have avoided a lot of tragedies, plenty of wars could have been escaped if we listened to our hearts. I call on you to get inspired by the act of these angels who had appeared from the sea as sailors. Let’s do our best for our actions to meet the need of the mankind and not a strategy. I believe the actions of those sailors were the good example we should follow, including powerful people who should also look to this example. And 110 years later after the tragedy we feel gratitude towards the Russian sailors and Russian people. This gratitude will be in our hearts for many generations” – said Mayor of Messina. When he addressed to Giovanni Ricevuto he noted that the young generation had to learn it as well; that it was necessary to talk to school pupils about the heroic act of the Russian sailors, to explain what it was like to follow one’s heart. We forget what dignity really is”.
He reminded once again that the heroic act of the Russian sailors is bigger than an action during a war. It was their heart the sailors followed, not an order. Nobody made them do it. They didn’t have to do any of that, but still they came to the rescue at the moment when earthquake shocks were still possible. It was a spontaneous act following the hearts. And that’s why I would like to thank you on behalf of all the citizens of Messina” – Mayor of Messina said in his final speech.
Captain of “Admiral Essen” frigate captain II rank Anton Kuprin also took the floor:
– We are gathered here to commemorate and to honor. 110 years ago people of Messina faced the awful tragedy when dozens of thousands of people were killed. But the tragedy was not capable of killing their will to survive. Russian people have a saying: “perish yourself but rescue your comrade”.
Therefore, the Russian sailors came to rescue the people. Extremely tired, they continued the rescue operation losing a lot of their own lives. And today when Russian ships enter ports and take part in joint exercises, they enjoy hospitable welcome near the Sicily coast. We are sure the friendship will get closer and we are going to keep it throughout the years” – he said.
“It is the place of mercy and dignity, the symbol of the new stage in the sphere of cultural collaboration. The heroic act of the Russian sailors reminded of ancient navy traditions” – said Niccolo del Felicio, commander-in-chief of the Italian Fleet homeport in Messina.
Yevgeny Panteleyev, General Consul of Russia in Palermo, shared welcome words and congratulations from Sergey Razov, Russian ambassador in Italy, who had visited the monument several times. “I have visited the monument many times and I am grateful to Sicilian authorities for this opportunity to commemorate our sailors” – he emphasized.
Russian and Italian sailors laid wreathes near the monument. The Catholic and Orthodox prayer services were held to commemorate the victims of the earthquake. They also prayed for rescuers who lost their lives helping people get out of the debris.
Special events took place on the same day in Reggio di Calabria where people also suffered from the horrific earthquake.
Mayor Giuseppe Falcomata greeted gathered people on behalf of Reggio di Calabria citizens.
“Your presence here is a sign and a very significant moment in our history. It is a great honor to welcome you here following the operation your fleet carried out to save hundreds of lives. Those events are not forgotten. We remember about them and we will keep remembering. Many Russian authors wrote about it too. Planting this tree has a symbolic meaning for us. Therefore, we are going to take care of the tree for it to grow the same way our relations are developing”.
To finalize the ceremony the participants planted a tree in the central park of Reggio di Calabria where the commemorative token had been placed to honor the heroic act of the Russian sailors.
Later in the evening “Admiral Essen” frigate hosted a reception with Messina authorities and the delegation of the Foundation of Saint Andrew the First-Called.