A Russian athlete swam across the sea to flee the country. He was sentenced to death

During the Iron Curtain era, many athletes tried to escape from the USSR. To move abroad, the athletes were ready to risk their careers and health, but even against this background, the unique story of Pyotr Patrushev stood out. The young swimmer decided to cross the Black Sea alone to reach the Turkish coast.

At home, the man was immediately sentenced to death.

Olympic candidate

Patrushev, born at the turning point of the Great Patriotic War, had a difficult childhood. Peter grew up in the remote Siberian village of Kolpashevo. The father of the future athlete died at the front, so his mother alone raised three children, often raising her hand to them. There were not enough funds for a normal existence: the children lived hand to mouth.

Talent helped Patrushev break into the people. After eight years of school, the boy managed to enter a technical school in Tomsk, at the same time taking up swimming. The coaches drew attention to Peter’s outstanding abilities and soon learned about him outside the region. After graduation, the boy was drafted, but he was lucky with the place of service: the swimmer was sent to the army sports club in Novosibirsk, where he was able to continue training.

Patrushev at that time was considered one of the applicants for a place in the national team and even had a chance to go to the 1964 Olympics, but life turned out differently. From the sports club he was sent to the ordinary section, where he soon made enemies. To avoid trouble, Peter decided to pretend to be insane, having obtained a transfer to the city psychiatric hospital.

However, in the hospital, as it turned out, he too was in big trouble. From the other students, Peter learned that they intended to cure him with hard drugs and made his first escape. Patrushev left the hospital in only his bathrobe, hiding with his swimming coach. It was then that the athlete decided to leave the country forever, having developed a fantastic plan.

Fins, compass and knife

Patrushev chose one of the most difficult ways to escape from the USSR – by swimming across the sea. To implement his plan, the athlete went to Batumi – the Georgian city, as you know, is located right on the border with Turkey. Peter systematically prepared for the swim, constantly monitoring the weather forecast. When the sea calmed down, the athlete began to act, taking a break from training due to an alleged illness:

– Going to the dormitory after dinner, I looked to see if there was a “queue” from the KGB. Just in case, I once again made sure that everything was ready – the equipment was packed in a bag. Bath accessories, flippers, a belt with hermetically packed documents, a needle and a compass attached to the belt, a small knife, Patrushev later recalled in his book.

Peter jumped from the second floor and secretly made his way to the training ground. Hidden in the grass, the swimmer waited for him to get dark and made his way through the channel to the sea undetected. The next obstacle in his path was the border patrol, but Patrushev also managed to overcome it: he tried to swim almost silently and hid from the searchlights, diving deep into the water.

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Careful preparation has done its job. Patrushev managed to carry out his plan and reach the Turkish coast, breaking about 35 kilometers by sea. Offshore, the distance is insane even for a pro.

“Sentenced to be shot”

In Türkiye, however, the Soviet fugitive was received rather coldly. Peter was immediately arrested, suspecting him of a spy. Patrushev was sent to prison, where he was severely tortured, but a confession could not be obtained. At the same time, a criminal case was opened against the swimmer in the USSR: in his homeland he was declared a traitor and sentenced to death.

Patrushev managed to get out of prison only after a year and a half, having left Turkey for Australia. Only there did the athlete finally find what he fled the Union for: freedom. Peter studied at the university, mastered English brilliantly, had a wife and child, and soon made a career as a journalist and translator. Subsequently, the former swimmer also had a chance to work in the negotiations between Australian and Russian politicians.


His death sentence was canceled after the collapse of the USSR, so Peter again had the opportunity to visit Russia. However, the Australian citizen did not want to go back: for him, the homeland was forever associated with a sense of anxiety. Patrushev died in 2016 at the age of 73, telling his unique story in an autobiographical book with a grandiose title: “Pyotr Patrushev. Death sentence.”


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