Swimmer by River Neva, Leningrad, 1982
Swimmer by River Neva, Leningrad, 1982
Swimmer by River Neva, Leningrad, 1982
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Swimmer by River Neva, Leningrad, 1982

Denis Thorpe


In February 1982, photographer Denis Thorpe flew to Leningrad, as it was then, with a friend – a brief stopover before catching a connecting flight to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Walking along the River Neva, near the island that houses the historic Peter and Paul Fortress, the pair spotted “this brave soul” preparing to take the plunge at the site of a river swimming pool. “For me, she symbolises the strength of the Russian people,” says Thorpe. Swimming in icy water was a cultural phenomenon in the USSR, but fell out of favour after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the winter of 2017, however, enthusiasts revived the tradition, and started swimming again at the iconic fortress with its needle-thin golden spire. Was Thorpe tempted to test the water all those years ago? “Absolutely not – I kept my thermals on.” Words: Hannah Booth


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