Heroic Coast Guard Officer Papadopoulos, Who Saved Thousands at Height of Refugee Crisis, Dies at 44

Hellenic Coast Guard Capt. Kyriakos Papadopoulos has saved many refugee lives (PHOTO/4.1 Miles/Daphne Matziaraki)

LESBOS, Greece – He became the face that personified Greece’s uneven battle to protect lives and human dignity at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016, when hundreds of thousands of refugees were making the perilous crossing from Turkey’s shores to the island of Lesvos on their way to Europe.

An ordinary hero, the life and career of 44-year-old coast guard officer Kyriakos Papadopoulos – immortalised in Daphne Matziaraki’s Oscar-nominated documentary “4.1 miles” about the refugee crisis in Greece – was abruptly cut short on Tuesday night when he died of a heart attack.

As the captain of the coast guard patrol boat PLS 602 based in Mytilene, Lieutenant Papadopoulos was personally responsible for rescuing thousands of refugees and migrants from the waters of the Aegean. An ordinary man plunged into the midst of the refugee crisis that erupted in 2015-2016, he rose to the challenge and became a symbol of the country’s collective determination to value human life, wherever it may come from.

His tireless efforts and selflessness, marked by a high sense of duty undismayed by long hours and low pay, earned him accolades in Greece and even saw him walking the red carpet at the Oscars and visiting the United Nations, where the film was screened in 2017.

Director Daphne Matziaraki and Captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos spoke about the Oscar-nominated 4.1 Miles at the UN screening. (Photo by TNH Costas Bej)

His actions had inspired Matziaraki 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 had said in statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) in 2017, 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 in that crucial two-year period.

Papadopoulos’ 5,000-plus rescues in the Aegean, which earned him awards from the Greek state and the Athens Academy, had also amazed the former Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann during his visit to Mytilene, who thought he had misheard when he asked the father-of-two how many lives he had saved.

In a statement of condolence for his death, Shipping and Island Policy Minister Fotis Kouvelis said that Papadopoulos had been an officer the coast guard was proud to have among its ranks and one that demonstrated how Greece perceives the values of humanism, solidarity, equality and peace, “how in the midst of the economic and social crisis, [Greece] remained faithful to the humanitarian values of its culture, which must also be the values of Europe.”

In this Jan. 31, 2016 photo Lieutenant Kyriakos Papadopoulos steers the Hellenic Coastguard boat into the Mytilene port , bringing in dozens of refugees and migrants that were trying to cross from Turkey coast to the Greek island of Lesbos. Greek authorities says that Papadopoulos credited with saving thousands of lives off the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos at the height of Europe’s migration crisis has died aged 44. (AP Photo/Nikolia Apostolou)
In this Jan. 31, 2016 photo Lieutenant Kyriakos Papadopoulos on the Hellenic Coastguard boat as it arrives to the Mytilene port, bringing in dozens of refugees and migrants that were trying to cross from Turkey coast to the Greek island of Lesbos. (AP Photo/Nikolia Apostolou)

4 Comments

  1. At least one real Greek left, now we have the ones he helped, rescued, brought to shore, starving, cold, in deep emotional and physical tortue, thanks to the Benevolent Humanitarians SYRIZA, who have built and run the worlds worse camps….

    SYRIZA is a disgrace in everything – a false hellenic prophet that has brought nothing but death and destruction to peoples lives and dreams..

    To the Coast Guard Officer Papadopoulos, our thanks for your service to Greece, and all the Greeks, and your service to those that needed help when none was given..

  2. This man was a Saint. God took him away too early. I hope the Greek government does something good for his family but I doubt it.

  3. YES NIKO!…. LIKE BUILDING A MONUMENT TO HIM …WHO REPRESENTED…. … WHAT WAS ONCE GOOD ABOUT GREECE……HONOR, INTEGRITY, LOYALTY, COMPASSION AND NEVER SURRENDERING THEIR OBLIGATIONS IN ACCORDANCE TO THE LAWS OF GREECE!..

    ..LET THEM BE REMINDED AND INSCRIBE THE WORDS… ….THAT COAST GUARD OFFICER … KYRIAKOS PAPADOPOULOS…. FULFILLED HIS DUTIES NOT ONLY FOR GREECE…BUT HUMANITY!

    In America….they built Monuments and libraries for George Bush Jr. …for saving Iraq….by killing 600,OOO of them based on lies!

    In Greece….they can start building monuments , not based on lies ….like they used to …for Spartan Greeks …like leonidas for saving Sparta and Greece…. or Alexander the Great ..the departed Greek Macedonian…thank to Tsipras…. for someone who …in this moment of time… was the face for not only Greece…but the entire world …in what most of the world was not doing! It is Kyriakos… who reminded the rest of the world …what humanity is supposed to be doing..for the victims of powerful financial degenerates!

    The dedication of KYRIAKOS…SHOULD BE A MESSAGE TO THE REST OF THE EU, NATO AND THE UNITED STATES…..YOU CAN STEAL OUR ASSETS, CULTURE AND LANDS….BUT YOU CAN NEVER STEAL OUR HEARTS AND SOULS ….TO DO WHATS RIGHT!

    YES, NIKO …..THEY SHOULD PUT KYRIAKOS MONUMENT …AND DEDICATE THE NAMING OF A NEW COAST GUARD BASE …IN HIS HONOR …..RIGHT ON THE PORT ….WHERE THEY WOULD BE PLACING A NEW U.S. NAVAL BASE!

    MAY HIS MEMORY BE ETERNAL!
    .

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