A guest blog from John Foreman, Defence Attaché, British Embassy

19 January is Epiphany, an ancient Christian feast day which, in the Orthodox tradition, celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.  The people of Ukraine, as elsewhere in the region, celebrate this event by jumping into the cold waters of local rivers and lakes to cleanse their souls and wash away the sins of the last year.  A dip in cold water is also reputed to improve health and give a natural buzz.

On the morning of 19 January, the Defence Section in Kyiv, in need of similar moral renewal, decided to take the plunge at the Hydropark, situated on an island on the Dnipro river in the centre of the city.  On the way we discussed “do’s” and “don’ts” published in the morning Kyiv newspapers.  By the time we arrived, the event was in full swing.  The air temperature was a balmy 3 degrees and although, unlike last year the river was not frozen over, passing mini-icebergs showed that the water remained a touch nippy.  Young men stripped to their swimming costumes (or underwear) and ran together into the water before running out a few seconds later.  The faithful crossed themselves and dipped their heads three times below the water to mark the Holy Trinity.  The tough dived straight in off a small platform.  Some entrepreneurs had set up a mobile banya with hot drinks to allow repeat dips.  Most, including us, edged in gradually holding back yelps of pain, swam a few ragged strokes before exiting as quickly as possible.  

So what did it feel like?  Well, we got very cold very quickly especially in our legs and arms and after 10 seconds we knew we had to get out.  Afterwards we were numb for a number of minutes and bright pink all over, due to blood flowing back to the surface of our skin from our body core to where it had sought refuge from the cold water.  But we also felt refreshed, alert, ready for a full day’s work and grateful to have been allowed to participate in and to learn about this part of Slavic culture.   


Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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