When Ukrainians began driving out of Kyiv and Mariupol at the beginning of the war with Russia, Greek-Australian humanitarian nurse, Helen Zahos, was driving in. Such is her commitment to helping those in need.
Having recently returned from Ukraine, Zahos joined the Ouzo Talk Podcast to re-tell her story of living and working in what is currently, arguably the most dangerous place on the planet.
Zahos is no stranger to this type of danger though.
The Groot Eylandt-born nurse has been volunteering in conflict zones for some 25 years, including in Iraq, but also during the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece. While on Lesvos, the sight of drowned children was an almost daily occurrence – as was the need for her to help the mothers of those children to identify them. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted.
But by her own admission, it’s conflict in Ukraine that has been one of the most difficult for Zahos to let go of, in part owing to the scale and scope of the injuries being inflicted on both soldiers and civilians alike.
And it hasn’t just been the injuries, with the experience of living in a state of hypervigilance for months in a warzone forcing the Gold Coast Hospital nurse to adopt some extreme measures.
“I didn't realise how bad I was until I got to Moldova on the way out and how hypervigilant I was,” admits Zahos.
“There were a few nights where I couldn't get to sleep. I had all intentions of listening to some meditation music or something in my ears – like putting earphones in. I was too scared to put the earphones in.
“I was too scared because you want to listen out for the missiles – you’re hyper-aware. You want to listen for the bombs, you want to listen in case your phone’s going off.
“Never ever did I go to the toilet even at the hotel (without my) phone, passport, my visa card, my money – because you knew that no matter what happens around you, as long as I’ve got that on me, I can run.
“Every building we would walk into, you’re making assessments. It's exhausting, because you're assessing – okay we're going to go in here and grab a coffee, but if something happens here, what do I do? How do I get out because you might be separated from your crew, I might be off in another part of the building or something happens.”
During the wide-ranging discussion on Ouzo Talk, Zahos also gives an insight into the app being used to keep people safe during bombing raids in Ukraine, while also recounting the story of how she and her international colleagues helped save a young Iraqi girl who was given no hope of survival.