At one point in “4.1 Miles,” a documentary on the efforts by the crew of a Hellenic Coast Guard boat to save people on a sinking dinghy in the stormy strait between Turkey and the island of Lesvos in the middle of the refugee crisis of 2015, the camera focuses on the face of the boat’s commander. He is silent, his eyes sad. After all the shouting and the tension of the rescue, after the boarding of panic-stricken, soaking people, after his own anxious efforts to give the kiss of life to an unconscious child, as he heads back to port, Lieutenant Kyriakos Papadopoulos seems to be thinking that nothing is enough; that whatever he and his crew and all those who were taking part in the rescue of refugees and migrants could do, lives would be lost. “It’s a nightmare. This agony… Everywhere we went, there were people in the water,” he says at the end. “And I hope that there is no one missing.”
In 2015, some 850,000 people crossed the sea to Greece, with an estimated 805 deaths, according to the International Organization for Migration. Papadopoulos reckoned that he had taken part in the rescue of about 5,000. His efforts, along with those of his crew, were recorded by Daphne Matziaraki in her Oscar-nominated short documentary (4.1 miles is the breadth of the strait between Turkey and Lesvos) for The New York Times. This small group represented the struggle of other members of the Hellenic Coast Guard and other security services, of fishermen and other residents of the islands, of the NGOs and volunteers from Greece and the rest of the world. Papadopoulos, with his great empathy, his strong physical presence and gentle words, his professionalism and dedication that went beyond the call of duty, became a symbol of all that is best in what the Greeks have to offer. His was the face of solidarity, of responsibility, of the understanding that we all have the right to life, to security, to hope.
How many children and grandchildren who are not yet born will know that they owe their being to Papadopoulos and the other men and women like him? Will they know of the Greek officer’s sorrow for the lives that were lost in the “peaceful waters of Greece,” as he called them? Will they learn that this man died at the age of 44 on Tuesday, leaving behind a wife and two children? And we, who bow our heads in respect, how can we feel pride for those who bring honor on us while ignoring the things that concerned them? How can we tolerate the wretched “reception centers” at Moria and elsewhere? Kyriakos Papadopoulos was afraid lest even one person be lost at sea. When so many are lost on land, do we worry?