An ordinary hero, he became the face for Greece’s insistence that human life has worth, wherever it may come from. From the shores of Lesvos and the thin strip of water that divides these from the Turkish shores, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, the Lesvos coast guard officer featured in Daphne Matziarakis’ documentary “4.1 Miles”, on Sunday found himself catapulted into the Oscar awards ceremony in Los Angeles, rubbing shoulders with celebrities.
“We are proud of the superhuman efforts that the coast guard crews made to not lose even one soul at sea during this tragedy, which we must not forget is still being played out in our country,” he said in a statement to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) after the awards.
Now 43 years old, Papadopoulos and his fellow officers saved thousands of refugees at the height of the crisis until the spring of 2016, when the flows of migrants to the island slowed. He inspired Matziaraki, then in her final year studying journalism in Berkeley, California, to come to Lesvos and make her film, among others capturing the harrowing moments of a shipwreck in which large numbers drowned on October 28, 2015 and the desperate efforts of the coast guard officers to save as many as they could.
“Moments of personal weakness are a luxury we cannot afford. A few miles away are people that need our help. We will have time to weep,” Papadopoulos said, describing his experiences. Himself a child of a refugee family uprooted from Asia Minor, an ordinary working-class boy that joined the coast guard, Papadopoulos and his crew were behind every press release referring to search and rescue operations in that part of the Aegean for the last two years.
He did not seem unduly upset that Matziaraki’s film finally missed out on an Oscar. “What does it matter?” he said, sitting with his teenage daughter Vivi. The thing he most remembered during the Oscar ceremony, he told ANA, was the eyes of the people in the water, waiting to be saved.