On one of the last days of August, 32-year-old Olha Tseiukova performed a reckless deed and “escaped from Alcatraz Island.” She had to swim 1.5 miles in ice-cold water from the island with the jail of the same name located on it to San Francisco shore. It was not done for entertainment or in search of thrill, but to collect money to help Ukrainian homeless people.
Tseiukova has two higher educations and a Swedish institute diploma. She works for a well-known international oil and gas company, and this year she was transferred to Great Britain, where she is now responsible for commercial matters in the North Sea and Ireland. Tseiukova is also chair of the charity’s Ukrainian Trustees, which provides a safety net for homeless people in Ukraine. It is interesting that two years ago Tseiukova did not even know how to swim, but once she set this challenge, there was nothing to stop her from doing it. At the present, thanks to her swim, she collected almost 9,000 dollars, and this money is going to be used for needs of the homeless in Ukraine.
The Day asked Olha TSEIUKOVA about her impressions of the swim, why and when this idea came to her, and if such original acts of charity are effective, especially in Ukraine.
Why did you become interested in charity? What does it give to you personally? What are you motivated by?
“I became interested in charity quite a long time ago, because I believe in personal social responsibility of each individual. Step by step, every one of us can make this world a better place. We are human beings in the first place, and only then we are businessmen, politicians, officials, etc. It hurts me to see so many old people that live in terrible poverty, or homeless teenagers that have nowhere to go. That is why I decided to do everything I can to make their lives at least a bit better. I believe that every person has a right for a home and happy future.”
What is the difference between charity in Ukraine and that in the West?
“In Ukraine the word ‘charity’ does not always arouse positive emotions, since some charity foundations and people engaged in this activity tarnished their reputation and lost credibility with the public. A lot of them think that all charity means is bringing toys and sweets to orphanage once a year. Nobody takes time to think if those children really need toys. How a toy can change a child’s life? Is it really what we need to think about when it comes to orphans? What about their future, where are they going to go after they grow up and graduate?
“The West has a more systemic approach to charity: communities support projects that are directed at implementation of certain changes. For example, there is a culture of support of charity projects in Great Britain. People understand that in this way they can contribute to social changes, and that is why they make small but regular donations to projects they favor the most. Every one of my British colleagues supports a certain charity foundation, they donate money or organize acts of charity. And not all of those actions are as crazy as my swim from Alcatraz Island, for some of them walking 20 kilometers is an important personal achievement. The main thing is to set a goal and reach it for the benefit of other people, and not only for oneself.”
How did the idea of escape from Alcatraz Island appear? What were you inspired by? Why did you choose this complicated and dangerous action?
“This idea came to me two years ago. I just learned how to swim at that time. And that is when I became familiar with charity organization Depaul Ukraine, which opened my eyes to the problem of homeless people in Ukraine. And I decided to set a goal for myself: to swim from Alcatraz Island to the shore in order to collect money for Depaul’s projects and draw attention to the problem of the homeless in Ukraine. I also want to show with my personal example that we are capable of building a kind of society we want to live in.”
What were the main difficulties during the preparation and the swim itself? Were you scared? Since these waters are full of sharks.
“Getting ready for Alcatraz Island was hard. I had to undergo a lot of training. Luckily, I met a wonderful swimming coach Uliana Kornieiko, who taught me to swim and showed that thanks to persistent exercise one can achieve the desired result. To be completely honest, it was hard to keep the constant schedule of training sessions, because I spent from 12 to 14 hours at work, and then I had to rush to the swimming pool. During the last months before the swim I injured the shoulder and strained some back muscles.
“But that was not the hardest part. There have been a few times when I wanted to drop everything, because I saw that my initiative was not supported by Ukrainians. Even some of my friends said that I risk my life for some ‘bums,’ and I had to explain over and over that they are the same as us, and it is not their fault that they were less lucky. I want these children to have a chance for future, and I believe in their success, I believe they will be able to receive education, find a job, create families, and have children. They just need our support to reach it.”
What are your impressions from the swim? Do you plan to hold similar original and interesting actions in the future?
“I am proud of being the first Ukrainian who swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco shore. And I am proud of the fact I did this for Depaul and people who require help. As for today, I have already collected 8,500 dollars, which means I only need to collect 1,500 dollars more.
“I do not have any specific plans yet, but one thing I know for sure is that I will be holding similar actions in the future. I am thinking about the English Channel and the Strait of Magellan, or I could swim across Loch Ness lake (smiles).”