Ukrainian refugees learn how to swim in Australian beach conditions


Fifty refugees who have recently arrived from Ukraine are being taught to swim at an ocean pool at Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

The program is teaching children and adults how to identify rips, swim between the flags, swim among waves and be confident in ocean water.

Natalia Borodina from the Ukrainian Council of NSW said it was important for Ukrainians to become accustomed to unfamiliar Australian beach conditions.

“In Ukraine we don’t have the ocean. We’ve just got the Black Sea, and there are no huge waves,” Ms Borodina said.

“As a mother of three sons, I understand how it is necessary to get skills and knowledge about safe swimming.”

A woman smiles with a young boy in front of the ocean on a cloudy day
Natalia Borodina and her son Ivan, who is taking part in the program. (ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowring)

One of her sons, Ivan, is a participant in the program. He says the water back home was colder and less salty.

“In Ukraine, I was able to open my eyes in the water. Here I can’t because the water is so salty,” Ivan said.

“I like it more because there’s more waves here and they’re really big. So it’s much more fun.”

An ocean pool seen from above
The Bondi Icebergs ocean pool is giving participants a taste of ocean water.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowring)

Knowing how to navigate the waves is also important for mother-of-two Natalie Shvets, who arrived in Australia in May last year.

“We don’t have waves like [at] beaches in Australia and where we come to Australia we don’t know how to spend time at the beach,” Ms Shvets said.

Offering helping hands

Bondi Icebergs member Ingrid Studholme was inspired to start the program after attending Ukraine rallies where she heard how people wanted to learn how to swim.

Two women wearing dark long sleeved rashie tops smile in a shallow swimming pool
Ingrid Studholme (right), pictured with teacher Harriet Gillies, saw the need for swimming lessons.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowring)

“It’s so crucial to our life, to our culture, here along the coastline in Australia to know how to be safe in the water,” Ms Studholme said.

“We want our Ukrainian recently arrived brothers and sisters to learn the healing powers of being in the ocean and we want them to do that safely.”

Two young boys swim freestyle in an ocean pool while a woman with a black top with the word "coach" on it watches on in the w
Kids as young as three are taking part in the program.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowring)

She also has a personal connection to the plight of Ukrainian refugees, as her father fled Latvia after Russia invaded and occupied the country in 1940. 

Ms Studholme is coordinating the program in collaboration with Bronte Surf Life Saving Club and the Ukrainian Council of NSW.

A bird's eye view of several people paddling surfboards in shallow clear water at a beach
Paddleboard classes were held at Bronte Beach late last year.(Supplied: Swim for Ukraine)

Refugees have also taken part in sessions swimming at Bronte Beach to learn beach safety.

“They’re learning how to float, how to swim, how to paddle, how to enjoy the water, and also how to be mindful of what’s happening around them,” Ms Studholme said.

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Sydney football club welcomes Ukrainian refugee.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowring)

Timely lessons

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