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A legendary Greek figure has gone down in history as the Lady of Ro; a woman - symbol - who for 40 years was devoted to a certain duty: every morning she raised the Greek flag on the rocky islet of Ro, Dodecanese, and lowered it at sunset.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
Her real name was Despina Achladioti and she was born in 1890 in Kastellorizo, which was then under Ottoman occupation. In 1924 she settled on the rocky islet of Ro with her husband Kostas Achladiotis and her blind mother, and they decided to engage with livestock farming.
The Lady of Ro made her first Greek flag on her own, using a white sheet and a blue curtain and she raised it for the first time in 1927. "I have the flag at home, when I die I will take it with me", she said once in a rare interview to Freddy Germanos in a TV special of ERT Channel.
In 1940 her husband became seriously ill. Despina lit a fire to create smoking signals asking for help from the residents of Kastellorizo and floating fishermen, but it wasn’t noticed in time. Kostas Achladiotis passed away in the fishing boat that had picked him up to take him to the doctor of Kastellorizo. Despina took care of her husband’s burial and returned to Ro.
She never left the island of Ro, even when Kastellorizo, which was bombed by the British during the capitulation of Italy in 1943, became almost deserted by its inhabitants, most of whom were forced to flee.
Every day she raised the Greek flag on the island, a habit that became synonymous with her very existence. The allies regularly sent her various supplies in recognition of her offer, while she always greeted passing ships.
After the end of World War II, the Dodecanese islands along with Kastellorizo and all the adjacent islets became part of Greece, following the Paris Peace Treaties on February 10, 1947.
However, the adventures for the Lady of Ro didn’t end with the liberation. In August 1975, Turkish journalist Omar Kasar, along with two other persons, took advantage of her absence for health reasons and raised the Turkish flag on the island. When the Lady of Ro returned to the island she put it down immediately and since then she has become known all over the world.
Despina Achladioti has been awarded by the Academy of Athens, the Greek Navy, the Greek Parliament, the Municipality of Rhodes, the National Bank of Greece and other bodies and organisations. The Hellenic Ministry of National Defense sent a naval detachment and a delegation of the Navy’s General Staff to Kastellorizo, where on November 23, 1975 she was awarded the National Service Medal.
"I love the islands of Kastellorizo and Ro. I was left alone in 1943, in Kastellorizo, with my blind mother, when all the inhabitants of the island fled to the Middle East and Cyprus. With the Greek flag raised and the love for Greece deeply rooted in me, I went through all the hardships of my life… Of course, life in Ro is not so pleasant, but you can feel Greece more while being lost in the sea just a few hundred meters away from the Turkish coasts".
The Lady of Ro passed away at the age of 92, in the hospital of Rhodes. Her wish was fulfilled, as she was buried on her island with honors of a national heroine. On the island of Ro there are still the two small houses she lived in.