Qawalangin Tribe President Tom Robinson assists a chilly Russian swimmer who just swam across the bay from Hog Island last week in honor of the 220th birthday of Ivan Veniaminov, the Russian Orthodox Church's St. Innocent, who lived in Unalaska from 1824 to 1834 and later became the top priest in all of Russia. - Jim Paulin

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Swimmers honor St. Innocent

September 8th, 2017 | Jim Paulin Print this article   Email this article  

Four Russian and one Chinese "polar bear" swimmers braved the frigid waters of Unalaska Bay last week, to mark the 220th anniversary of Ivan Veniaminov, the Russian Orthodox Church's St. Innocent, who lived and preached and wrote in Unalaska from 1824 to 1834.

They swam different routes in two days: first from Memorial Park to the Holy Ascension Orthodox Cathedral, and then 1.7 miles from Hog Island across the bay to a spot across from the Dutch Harbor Post Office.

The swimmers were accompanied by two Russian Orthodox priests from Russia, who were assisted locally by Unalaska's priest, Father Ivan Bereskin. After swimming from Hog Island, the shivering swimmers were brought by van to the Ounalashka Corporation office, where they were presented with warm O.C. jackets by CEO Chris Salts.

A few hours later, at a potluck dinner organized by the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska at the senior citizens center, translator Galena Roraback said that by swimming, they were symbolically recreating the journeys of Veniaminov who often traveled in small watercraft.

The swim team sat at a head table as honored guests at the senior center gathering. Rufina Shaishnikoff of Unalaska credited Veniaminov with bringing the written language to the Aleuts, and said that after the Russians sold Alaska to the U.S., the local illiteracy rate significantly declined.

Venaminov authored the book, "Islands of the Unalaska District," which provides, in much detail, information on the area's culture and environment.

The international journey started in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, with Alaska stops in Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage. Next year, they plan to swim between Unalaska and Umnak islands. In five years, there are plans for a monument to Veniaminov in Anchorage. Some of the swimmers had previous Alaska experience, swimming across the Bering Strait in 2013.

The team included Hieromonk Eulogius, Aleksandr Brylin, Victor Godlevskiy, Grigorii Prokopchuk, Evgeny "Emeliantsev", and Priest Evgenii Startsev all of Russia, and Wang Yunfeng, of China.

The theme is "uniting the continents," in hopes of promoting mutual understanding and peaceful relations.

Sponsors of the "spiritual and educational relay" include various Russian businesses, the state of Alaska and the Anchorage-based Institute of the North.

Jim Paulin can be reached at


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