Earlier this week, Greek-Australian nurse and volunteer Helen Zahos made it into Ukraine through Moldova, following a decision to offer humanitarian help and medical assistance to war-stricken Ukrainians.
The trip lasted five hours with a two-hour stop at the border. In spite of issues due to the language barrier, the small mission made it through thanks to a Greek connection.
“Everyone spoke Ukrainian and we could not make sense of each other at the border. At some point one of the officers asked me where I am from and I said I was an Australian from Greece,” she told Neos Kosmos.
“Surprised, he asked me, ‘Greek, do you speak Greek’? and we started talking. His name is Giorgos and he has been there for the past three months, from Thessaloniki. Suddenly, and in spite of the beurocratic issues at the border, we felt like hanging out with a familiar face. The situation stopped being that scary.”
Eventually, Ms Zahos and the rest of the crew made it to Odessa just before the curfew. In another moment of despair while trying to figure out how to get phone credit and inform friends and family of her whereabouts, another Greek friend in Ukraine, a journalist, contacted her to let her know that he had credited her phone on his own accord in case she needed it.
“It happened without me asking!,” she explained. “I can’t begin to describe how moved I was. Help comes from where you least expect it. There are good humans in the world.”
Twelve hours later, Zahos and the group were reaching the frontline, driving through debris, bombarded villages and destroyed roads.
“On one hand we saw the tanks and on the other, children on bicycles going about as if it was a normal day… ,” she says, narrating the long drive to their undisclosed final destination.
‘It’s deeply saddening. You can still tell Ukraine is a beautiful country full of flowers, trees, fields. It reminds me me of Greece and even my own village.”
As Ms Zahos was enjoying the scenery, almost forgetting the destruction she had encountered a few hours before a bomb hit not far from their car.
“What’s more shocking than the bomb itself is the lack of reaction from Ukrainians. It feels like a fever dream. The driver took out his phone, took a shot and that was it. No comment.”
The next day, the crew arrived at the specific location where medical assistance is provided to the injured. The experience is dark and harrowing.
“Today I will go to the hospital. The doctor has already shown me photos of the bombing victims to prepare me,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“The images are the worst I have seen in over 20 years of being a nurse and paramedic. Some really hard days lie ahead of me.”