For a short moment on Saturday, 100 expats got an extreme taste of Moscowâs winter when they went swimming in Lake Bezdonnoe in Serbranniy Bor.
It was the third annual Cold Plunge for the Homeless, run by Auski the social group for Australians and New Zealanders in Moscow.
One by one they entered the swim hole at the Polar Bear Club. Some of them swam the 10m or so length of the swimming hole, but most had barely got in before they turned right around again â so chilly was the water. Shouts, hollers, screams were heard across the forest!
Blankets and slippers were provided by the eventâs corporate supporters to ensure the plungers were able to get warm right away. Volunteers gave hot tea and other warming beverages.
A number of plungers opted to dress up in fun costumes and so the âQueenâ of England went for a dainty swim, followed by her Russian Royal Guards.
âWe are so pleased that Her Majesty was able to take time out of her busy schedule to join our event,â organiser Karen Percy told Moscow Expat Life with her tongue firmly in her cheek.
The event began in 2011 under then Auski coordinator, Jessie Cumming, who wanted to do some good for the community. The first Cold Plunge for the Homeless was timed to coincide with Australia Day and Waitangi Day (the national day of New Zealand) when Aussies and Kiwis at home are enjoying summertime pursuits â the beach, barbecues, hiking. There were about 40 swimmers then, who raised about USD$8,000.
Now it is a popular event on the expat calendar and is going from strength to strength. This year the organisers expect to collect more than USD$15,000 for homeless projects.
Just a few weeks before tens of thousands of Russian Orthodox believers took part in an ephiphany swim to replicate the baptism of Jesus. And during the winter many Russians take a regular ice dip believing that it has health benefits.
âWe love that we can bring together this most Russian of traditions, with a sense of charity,â Ms Percy said.
âItâs a great event for a great cause!â
Funds raised in 2011 and 2012 have been passed on to the Homeless Aid Services Caritas run by Marina Perminova. Once a week homeless people on the streets receive a warming cup of tea, and a modest plastic bag that contains a simple sandwich, a can of fish or meat, and an orange or mandarin.
The fruit, says Ms Perminova, is to give them âsome joyâ so that they might remember what their old, happy life was like. The program also aims to rebuild lives â and so the funds also assist in helping people to get replacement documents, passports etc. Sometimes a bus ticket home is provided, so that that person can go back to their home town. Many of the street people here are not from Moscow.
They say to understand the plight of others you need to walk a mile in their shoes.
For a group of expats just a few metres or a few seconds in chilly waters was enough to get a brief glimpse into the harsh life faced by tens of thousands of men, women and children who live on Moscowâs streets.
You can check out the fun on the
Cold Plunge Auski Facebook pageÂ
Donations can be made via our Go Fund Me
online site â Auski Cold Plunge 2013